Culver City Observer -

By Fred Altieri
Sports Reporter 

LAFC Takes On Seattle in Round of 16 Clash

Most Anticipated MLS is Back Tourney Matchup

 

It's must-watch sports TV and digital streaming. LAFC will take on Western Conference rival Seattle Sounders in the Round of 16 stage of the MLS is Back Tournament at 8:00 p.m. PDT, Monday night, July 27 at the ESPN Complex near Orlando, Florida. The Black and Gold advanced by tying the Portland Timbers last Thursday night, 2-2, in their third match of Group F qualifying.

"Certainly we've tried to continue being a team that pushes games, takes initiative," said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley. "There are some small things that need to be cleaned up. We can always be sharper but we came out of a tough group. I think we were tested in all the matches and now we look forward to the game versus Seattle."

The Sounders are the MLS defending Champions and eliminated LAFC, 3-1, at Banc of California Stadium during the 2019 Conference Finals. Seattle lost one, tied one, and blanked the Vancouver Whitecaps, 3-0, to finish second in Group B to advance to the Round of 16 while LAFC won one game and tied two to finish second in Group F. All-time, with three losses and one tie in four head-to-head regular season matches, Seattle has yet to beat LAFC.

"We're starting off with a big, tough test. Our rival, Seattle, everyone knows that they finished our season last year. I think we've all watched that game many times," said Bradley. "It was a game where I don't think we were as sharp as we needed to be and we made a few mistakes and paid the price. And as good as we've been in the last year and a half, that's still the challenge."

Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer: "There are certain lessons that we learned back in November. But Bob (Bradley) can watch that same film and say: "Okay. What could have my team have done at that moment to make sure we won the game?" So, it's all about the right balance.

Against Portland, LAFC once again gave up the first goal as it has been all tournament. Timbers forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda scored in the 7th minute, assited by Sebastian Blanco and Marvin Loria. Except for this season's opening match, breakdowns have exposed a hole in LAFC's defense. They have allowed 10 goals in their last four matches.

Bradley broke down the Portland's opening goal: "The first goal that we gave up against Portland when the keeper played the ball out to Duvall (Chris), Chiqui (Palacios) stepped up, he was a little late getting to the ball, the ball got played down the line. And as Eddie (Sugura) moved over and Tristan (Blackmon) moved over, Latif (Blessing) was too slow to move inside."

"And so we got caught where the connection on the field between the right center back and the right back in that moment was too slow. And if you combine that with the positioning of the goalkeeper, that's a small error but one where you can pay a big price."

LAFC forward Bradley Wright-Phillips tied the match at 1-1 with a goal in the 36th minute assisted by Blessing. Midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye gave LAFC a 2-1 lead four minutes later, nailing a short-punch header inside the far post. Portland, only needing a tie to win Group F, snatched victory away from LAFC with Jeremy Ebobisse's equalizer in the 81st minute.

"I think in this game it asked a little more of them (LAFC substitutes) in a different way, in a sense that you have a lead and you need to figure out a way to manage it in the best scenario," said Kaye. "Whether it was naive defending, lack of communication, there was a lot of things that factored in allowing Portland to get back into the game a score the goal in the corner... It was just bad game management on our end."

The winner of the LAFC – Seattle match will advance to a Quarterfinals match versus Orlando City SC on Friday, July 31. Sounder defender Shane O'Neill expects a battle: "Obviously, it's going to be an extremely difficult game. But at the same time, we kind of know what we need to due in terms of nullifying their attack... L.A. have real quality going forward but I definitely wouldn't discount some of the players we have upfront either."

Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, from Pico Rivera, reiterated: "Obviously, we played them in L.A., a more difficult environment where their fans were totally against us. All the odds were against us. We understand that we can play LAFC and feel confident that we can beat them in a Round of 16 matchup in Orlando."

Schmetzer: "The game in November is a long time ago. We're past that. We're looking forward. Obviously, Vela's not here. That changes them a little bit. They've had some other minor changes. So, we'll look at their last three games here in Orlando and try and take most of our examples from those three games."

Bradley acknowledged: "Every time you step on the field knowing that they had their ideas, whether they're going to play in a low block, whether they're trying to match up one-on-one in the midfield, take advantage of set pieces. So, teams know that when they play us these are some of the ways that they can neutralize our abilities... and prepare to make sure that we can be at our best."

 

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