Wednesday, February 28 2024
Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris, left, and Los Angeles FC defender Giorgio Chiellini, right, vie for the ball during the first half of an MLS conference semifinal playoff soccer match Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

There was a lot of history on the line in Sunday’s MLS Western Conference semifinal at Lumen Field.

For the Seattle Sounders, who hadn’t lost a playoff game at home in a decade, another win would be their 20th straight in the postseason, breaking the league record. For LAFC, the reigning MLS champion, a victory would keep alive its hope of becoming the first MLS team to win consecutive titles in 11 seasons.

But at the end of the night the streak that mattered most belonged to Denis Bouanga, whose goal in the 30th minute gave him a score in eight straight games and proved the difference in LAFC’s 1-0 victory.

Seattle’s often-brutal late-fall weather stayed away, with the game kicking off in 41-degree temperatures under clear skies. The Sounders were even hotter at the start, forcing LAFC keeper Maxime Crepeau into two splendid saves in the opening four minutes.

The first was a sprawling stop of Joshua Atencio’s left-footed shot from just outside the box in the third minute, then seconds later he stuck up a hand to bat away a right-footed chip from Jordan Morris, who came in alone inside the LAFC penalty area with defender Giorgio Chiellini in pursuit.

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Seattle would have two equally dangerous chances in the final 15 minutes, with LAFC midfielder Timothy Tillman, standing in front of an open net, clearing a Yeimar shot off the line in the 76th minute; four minutes later, Crepeau would lift an Alex Roldan shot from distance over the bar. Crepeau deflected another shot off the crossbar in stoppage time.

LAFC was content to let the Sounders have the ball most of the night, absorbing tons of pressure while waiting for a transition moment. That moment came late in the first half, though it developed innocently enough with Tillman gathering a loose ball just outside his own penalty area and starting the other way. He then fed Bouanga near the center circle and the MLS scoring leader took it from there, outrunning the Seattle defense up the left wing and into the 18-yard box before ending the fast break by beating Sounders keeper Stefan Frei cleanly with a right-footed shot into the far corner. It was his 12th goal in the eight-game scoring streak for LAFC and Gabon, his national team.

LAFC had lost only four of the previous 23 games in which Bouanga had scored in all competition and was unbeaten in 17 MLS games in which it scored first.

Neither of those trends would be reversed.

Seattle controlled the first half, holding the ball for nearly 30 of the opening 45 minutes and putting three times as many shots on goal. And the Sounders’ dominance only grew in the second half. But LAFC led the only place that mattered, on the scoreboard.

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Referee Ted Unkel mostly kept his cards in his pocket and as a result the game turned physical at times — and appeared ready to careen out of control at others, especially when he allowed play to continue when Chiellini appeared to foul Seattle’s Cristian Roldan on the edge of the penalty area in the 60th minute, drawing vigorous protests from the Sounders.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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