Defending champs moving on as Sounders oust LAFC 3-1
By TIM BOOTH
SEATTLE (AP) The trio of Nicolas Lodeiro, Raul Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris were dominant during the MLS regular season, recognized among the best 11 players in the league.
When the MLS Cup playoffs finally started for the Seattle Sounders on Tuesday night, that trio was even better.
Lodeiro scored early in the first half, Ruidiaz added a second midway through the second, and Morris provided the capper as the defending champion Sounders beat depleted Los Angeles FC 3-1 on in the opening round of the MLS playoffs.
"For me playing with guys like Nico and Raul is really special," Morris said. "They make the game easy. We're complimenting each other really well."
Seattle's version of the "Big 3" had roles in each of the three goals, sending the Sounders into the Western Conference semifinals next week against FC Dallas.
Lodeiro scored in the 18th minute off assists by Ruidiaz and Morris to give the home side the early advantage. Ruidiaz finally finished one of Seattle's numerous chances with his eighth career playoff goal in the 66th minute, spinning a right-footed shot off a corner kick.
Eduard Atuesta scored in the 77th minute to pull LAFC to 2-1, but Seattle regained its two-goal advantage moments later when Ruidiaz found Morris on a quick counter. Morris had missed a wide-open goal earlier in the half, one of several missed chances Seattle had in the opening stages of the second half to build a cushion.
Ruidiaz has six career playoff assists to go with his eight goals.
"The `Big Three' did their jobs tonight. They earned their paychecks," Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said. "But I think what I'm most impressed with is the fact that this game was never going to be easy. We knew (LAFC coach) Bob (Bradley) was going to have his team ready. ... It's just testament to the qualities that we have on our squad, that were able to beat a tricky opponent."
The marquee matchup in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs lived up to its billing in a rematch of last year's Western Conference final won by the Sounders in Los Angeles. And it was the Sounders coming out on top again.
LAFC needed to be nearly perfect beginning the playoffs short-handed. LAFC was without Golden Boot winner Diego Rossi, Brian Rodriguez, Diego Palacios and Jose Cifuentes after all four tested positive for COVID-19 while on international duty in South America.
"I didn't think we started game very well tonight," Bradley said. "We were second to a lot of ball."
The absence of Rossi was the most notable after he led the league with 14 goals in the regular season and was the trigger to LAFC's offensive attack. Without Rossi, LAFC needed Carlos Vela to be otherworldly.
Vela was good. He assisted on Atuesta's goal, and nearly had a second but Mark-Anthony Kaye's goal in the 88th minute was ruled offside by video review.
But Vela's lasting memory will be a poorly taken penalty kick in the first half that was easily saved Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Vela drew the penalty just two minutes after Lodeiro's opening goal, using his experience to catch Nouhou Tolo reaching and cause the foul in the penalty area. But Vela's PK attempt was a weak, forgettable effort that caused Frei to slide only one step to his left and make a clean catch without much effort.
"He's a competitor and he's come through many nights for us and I know he was disappointed with that opportunity in the first half, something that for him is normally automatic," Bradley said.
It was the first penalty saved by Frei in a non-shootout since April 2016.
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Updated November 25, 2020