LAFC faces Seattle Sounders in first MLS Cup Playoffs
November 26, 2020
The table is set for LAFC's matchup with the Seattle Sounders in Round One of the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs. The Black and Gold will face the current league defending Champion on Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. PT, November 24, at CenturyLink field in Seattle. To add fuel to the fire, the Sounders knocked LAFC out of last season's Western Conference Finals, 3-1, at Banc of California Stadium on their way to the title.
There was one important development on this Tuesday, November 17, for LAFC as they were expecting to be without four of their key players against Seattle due to national team obligations. Jose Cifuentes, Diego Palacios, Brian Rodriguez and Diego Rossi all departed for their national teams but could be returning due to a league-approved plan.
Major League Soccer and its medical experts' decision will not require players to quarantine if they are able to travel back to the United States. Players are already in controlled environments with regular COVID testing enforced by their national teams. This will allow the players to be available for their respective MLS teams. This important development potentially gives LAFC the opportunity to field their best eleven players against the Sounders.
Los Angeles Football Club also received a couple of individual awards from Major League Soccer this past week. Forward Bradley Wright-Phillips was named the 2020 MLS Comeback Player of the Year last Friday, November 13. Wright-Phillips, from England, signed with LAFC before the season began after having spent the previous seven seasons with the New York Red Bulls.
"After my season last year it was very frustrating, a tough one to get through. To get Comeback Player of the Year is a big deal for me," said Wright-Phillips. "To at least get an award like this for something I've been working hard for all season. My family's sacrificed. It's good to kind of get rewarded at the end."
Rebounding from a lackluster 2019 season, Wright-Phillips finished second in LAFC scoring with eight goals and six assists in 18 games played this season. Considered one of the most productive scorers in MLS, he is a two-time winner of the MLS Gold Boot award, 2014 and 2016, and was named to the MLS Best XI in those same seasons. He has the league record for the fastest player to reach 100 goals, having accomplished it in only 159 matches.
"We take pride in the way we work. I said to the whole group this morning that when you have a player receive an individual award, everybody has been a part of that award," said head coach Bob Bradley.
"Because of the training of the day in and day out, the way guys push each other, the camaraderie. Those things are all the key to individual performance. I think that everybody's excited for Brad. Everybody knows that they get a little piece of that award. Brad was also quick to say it to everyone earlier today."
Wright-Phillips received 39.99 percent of the total vote to take the Comeback of the Year honor. He received 43.25 percent of the media vote as a solid confirmation. Kevin Molino of Minnesota United FC finished second in the voting with 21.89 percent while Milton Valenzuela from the Columbus Crew received 9.04 percent of the vote. Wright-Phillips is the first LAFC player to receive the award and the second from a Los Angeles franchise. Current Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham won the award in 2011 playing for the LA Galaxy.
"What I like here is a lot more responsibility for me, not just scoring goals. I've had to think a lot more about positioning, how I receive the ball, how I bring other players into the game," said Wright-Phillips. "Your football I.Q. has to be sharp every day. I wish I wasn't as old as I was so I could have had a lot of years under Bob, Ante (Razov), Mike (Sorber) and Kenny (Arena). These guys know their stuff. It's fun to train every day.
On Monday, November 16, Diego Rossi was named the inaugural AT&T Young Player of the Year. The 22-year old from Uruguay was the MLS Golden Boot award winner this season by leading the league in scoring with 14 goals in 19 matches. He also had four assists and paced LAFC through a very tough 2020 season that was compromised by the current COVID pandemic. Rossi's progressive improvement over the past three seasons with LAFC has drawn acclaimed international attention.
Rossi is the team's all-time leader in games started with 82 and minutes played with 7,201. He has scored 42 goals and has 20 assists in three seasons. He helped LAFC lead the league in scoring this season as they scored 47 total goals. Rossi has won five individual awards this season: Golden Boot, Young Player of the Year, as well as the Golden Boot, Young Player of the Tournament and named to the Tournament Best XI during the MLS is Back Tournament this past summer.
Rossi received 29.10 percent of the vote, including 35.44 percent of the media vote. He edged out Brenden Aaronson of the Philadelphia Union, who finished second in the balloting with 28.87 percent of the vote, but only 19.89 percent of the media vote. Daryl Dike from Orlando City SC finished third with 10.79 percent of the total vote. Rossi is the first LAFC player to earn the Young Player of the Year award.
"We didn't win there twice, played them twice away, and it was tough. I won't lie but I think our mistakes were our downfall when we played them. If you're looking at the game itself, I don't think we've been outplayed there," said Wright-Phillips about playing Seattle.
LAFC will likely be on the road for the entire MLS Cup Playoffs if they manage to keep advancing. If the Los Angeles Football Club can beat Seattle, it could inspire another serious title run for the Black and Gold. The Sounders are dangerous with forwards Raul Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris along with midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro.
Ruidiaz led the team with 12 goals, Morris had 10 and Lodeiro contributed seven into the net. Lodeiro led the team with 10 assists followed by Morris' eight. Seattle had one of the second best home records in the Western Conference at 7-1-2, just behind FC Dallas' unbeaten home record of 7-0-3. A win by LAFC would propel them into the Conference Semifinals on the road against the winner of the Portland Timbers and FC Dallas.
"We've had really good games with Seattle. Always interesting the differences between home games and away games," said Bradley. "Typically, they have ideas on how they try to close down the center of the field against us. And so, our ability to find the right spacing, find the right passes, and then our understanding of picking the right moments to press."
Wright-Phillips concluded: "We give it our best and when we go there it's a game that we have to give our best. We have to cut out the individual mistakes. I think if we get 11 complete performances, we win that game."