Nicolas Lodeiro scored a goal and assisted on two more by Raul Ruidiaz, and the Seattle Sounders advanced to the MLS Cup final for the third time in four years with a 3-1 victory over Los Angeles FC on Tuesday night.
Ruidiaz and Lodeiro scored four minutes apart in the first half to claim the lead for the Sounders, who upset the Supporters’ Shield-winning top seed in the Western Conference playoffs with a superb big-game performance. Seattle also beat two-year-old LAFC for the first time in five meetings.
Eduard Atuesta scored in the opening minutes on a free kick for LAFC, which reached the MLS records for points, goals and goal differential during arguably the best regular season in league history. LAFC then beat the crosstown LA Galaxy 5-3 last Thursday for its first playoff victory.
But the Sounders have years of playoff experience that LAFC can’t match, and their leaders led them back to the one-game league final. Seattle won the league title in 2016 and lost to Toronto FC in 2017.
Seattle will either host Toronto or visit defending champion Atlanta United for the MLS Cup final next Sunday. The Eastern Conference finalists meet Wednesday night.
Lodeiro followed up his outstanding performance against Real Salt Lake in the conference semifinal with another dominant offensive game. The 30-year-old Uruguayan set up Ruidiaz’s goal and then scored his own in a blistering sequence late in the first half.
Ruidiaz made it 3-1 in the 64th minute when Lodeiro stole an attempted clearance and fed him for a beautiful shot past Tyler Miller, the former Sounders backup goalkeeper. Ruidiaz, the 5ft 7in Peruvian forward, has six goals in just five career MLS postseason games.
Seattle slowed down the most potent offensive team in MLS history with physical defense, sometimes on the edge of legality. The Sounders committed 12 fouls and appeared to get away with two handballs in their box by defender Xavier Arreaga, but they largely kept the ball away from probable MLS MVP Carlos Vela, who followed up his record 34-goal regular season with two goals against the Galaxy last week.
LAFC went ahead in the 17th minute when Atuesta curled a beautiful free kick into the corner from outside the box. The Colombian midfielder’s goal was only his second since July, but his importance to the LAFC’s two-way play was recognized this week when he was named to the Best XI.
But the North End supporters’ section hadn’t even settled back in when the Sounders answered five minutes later. Lodeiro broke down LAFC’s defense and set up a move and a goal by Ruidiaz, who led the Sounders with 11 goals this season.
LAFC then gave too much space in front of goal to Lodeiro, and the Sounders captain slipped a low shot into Miller’s left corner.