Coming off a 4-1 loss last Sunday in Los Angeles and a mid-week draw against San Jose, plus dealing with six major injuries to starters and key backups, the Seattle Sounders sat behind the eight ball entering this weekend's home match against LAFC.
Will Bruin (hamstring strain), Raul Ruidiaz (heel contusion), Chad Marshall (knee inflammation), Nouhou (ankle sprain), Victor Rodriguez (concussion) and Gustav Svensson (hamstring strain) all sat out Sunday's match, the second against LAFC in eight days. Moreover, the lack of available players left Head Coach Brian Schmetzer with a six-man bench, one fewer than the usual seven.
Jordan Morris started his third straight match at forward with usual backups Harry Shipp and Handwalla Bwana on the wings, Jordy Delem at defensive midfielder and Roman Torres at centerback.
At kickoff, an injured and undermanned Seattle squad looked across the field at an LAFC team that sat atop the Supporters Shield standings (7-1-1, 22 points), held the fifth-best nine-match start in MLS history, featured Carlos Vela with his 10 goals plus five assists and started much of the same team that beat Seattle 4-1 a week earlier.
45 seconds later, Morris took advantage of an Eddie Segura mistake, turned the tables, and scored the second-fastest goal in Sounders FC history to give Seattle a 1-0 lead.
"I just gambled on it and was fortunate to intercept it and finish, but I think that was the start that we wanted," Morris said.
Three minutes later, the tables turned again when Vela scored his 11th goal of the year, assisted by Diego Rossi and Jordan Harvey. Despite multiple chances on both sides for the remaining 86 minutes, in addition to stoppage time, no further balls hit the back of the net, and the match ended 1-1.
In the 18th minute, Cristian Roldan engaged in a confrontation with LAFC midfielders Mark-Anthony Kaye and Eduard Atuesta. After shoving away Kaye, and being pushed himself, Roldan swung his arms outward and accidentally caught Atuesta in the face. Referee Ted Unkel looked at the play and deemed the contact "deliberate", giving Roldan a red card and putting Seattle at 10-men.
"There is no intent, and somehow that has to factor into it," Schmetzer said. "I can live with the call, the thing I don’t like to live with, or I won’t live with, is Atuesta not getting a yellow, because I think he was the instigator.”
Late in the match, during a counter-attack, Kelvin Leerdam kept Rossi from shooting by tackling the LAFC forward and receiving Seattle's second red-card of the match. Now at nine-men in 98th minute and facing a 19-yard free kick by Vela, the early leader for MLS MVP, the 38,581 men and women at CenturyLink Field held their collective breath for the final meaningful kick of the match.
Vela's shot soared high above the cross-bar, Stefan Frei drove the ball deep into the South end of the field, and the final whistle sounded, giving both Seattle and LAFC one point on the day.
"We wanted some revenge from last week and it was just a crazy game," Brad Smith said.
Sure, Smith and Morris each missed promising chances in the 91st minute and a Torres header minutes earlier came inches from creeping into the corner of LAFC's net before a diving save by Tyler Miller. The Sounders indeed saw multiple chances for a second goal. Yet for Schmetzer, Sunday's draw, which also featured LAFC out-shooting Seattle 21-4, feels as close to three points as one point comes.
"This is about as close as it gets," said Schmetzer, who also called his team "determined" on Sunday. "What I’m most proud of out of that group is that...they actually came together as a group and formed a really strong bond amongst themselves that I know is going to help us down the road."
The Rave Green (5-1-3, 18 points) now prepare for their first battle in club history against Ozzie Alonso after the former Seattle midfielder signed with Minnesota United in the off-season. Sounders FC and Minnesota (4-3-2, 14 points) kick off at 5:00 p.m. next Saturday, May 4 at Allianz Field in Saint Paul. Sports Radio 950 KJR's Pre-Match Show begins at 4:30 p.m. on 950am, the iHeart Radio App, or online at SportsRadioKJR.com/Listen.
Check out highlights from Seattle's 1-1 draw against LAFC below, plus interviews with Morris and Leerdam, as well as KJR's post-game show, featuring Schmetzer's post-match press conference, following the tie.