Powerhouse LAFC following Sounders' footsteps toward MLS Cup

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The wildly successful expansion team with deep-pocketed celebrity ownership is one win away from the MLS Cup final.

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So is Los Angeles FC.

A decade before LAFC made its flashy impact on Major League Soccer, the Seattle Sounders blazed a similar path. The Sounders also had an immediate penchant for signing star players and winning big early in their existence — and Seattle has never missed the playoffs in the decade since.

Now the Sounders are the last thing standing between regular season champion LAFC and the chance to play for the MLS Cup in its second season of existence. Seattle visits Banc of California Stadium on Tuesday night to face high-scoring, Supporters' Shield-winning LAFC in the Western Conference final.

"We expect the game to be intense, physical," LAFC coach Bob Bradley said. "When games are big, the competitive part of guys comes out even more. Seattle is a physical team. We know that throughout the year, teams try to disrupt the way we play. They try to do it at times using a bit more of a physical approach, and we need to be ready for that."

LAFC might have the best team in MLS history after reaching the league records for points, goals and goal differential during the regular season. But that success will carry an enormous asterisk if this powerhouse can't get past the Sounders, who have rounded into superb form down the stretch of another strong season with two playoff victories.

"We've gone through a pretty challenging year," Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said. "But I think there's a lot of things to be said about having those moments of adversity to make your team a little tougher and stronger, a little more mentally ready to go down to a place that's going to be a challenge."

Seattle has never beaten LAFC in four tries. LAFC won its inaugural game in Seattle in March 2018, and the Sounders also lost the first game ever played at the expansion club's sparkling new downtown stadium on a late goal that came to epitomize LAFC's knack for last-minute heroics.

LAFC had a late hero last week against the Galaxy in the first postseason win in franchise history. After Carlos Vela scored two early goals, Adama Diomande came off the bench and scored twice to hold off LAFC's crosstown rivals in the 5-3 victory.

"I want to win the MLS Cup, and my mind was just thinking this was one step closer," Vela said afterward. "We want more, and this team wants to win. The team wants to have the best season in history."

LAFC finished 16 points above Seattle in the regular season standings, but nobody in Los Angeles is expecting an easy win. The Sounders are confident in their ability to play with anybody behind Jordan Morris, whose hat trick propelled Seattle to a playoff win earlier this month.

"We're not afraid of them," Schmetzer said. "But we'll just have to make sure we're playing at a high level to make sure that we give ourselves the best chance of winning."

The Sounders have shut out three of their last four opponents, and goalkeeper Stefan Frei remains among the best in MLS.

LAFC's keeper is Tyler Miller, Frei's former backup in Seattle who has become an MLS elite since LAFC chose him in last year's expansion draft.

"Stef has been a great mentor to me, and still is a great mentor for me," Miller said. "But there is definitely a side of me that likes to go out there and show them what they let go."

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