When Carlos Vela decided to skip the MLS Is Back tournament to remain in Los Angeles with his pregnant wife, it figured to leave a gaping hole in the LAFC offense.
What the absence of the league’s reigning MVP really did, however, was open a door for Diego Rossi, who has spent most of his MLS career obscured in Vela’s wide shadow.
And Rossi has taken full advantage, scoring a goal in each half Monday to lift LAFC to a 4-1 win over the Seattle Sounders and into the tournament quarterfinals at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports.
The two goals give Rossi seven in five games in the tournament and a league-leading eight on the season. Latif Blessing also scored in the first half for LAFC while Brian Rodriguez closed the scoring in the 89th minute.
Will Bruin, playing for the first time in 13 months, scored Seattle’s lone goal in the 75th minute.
In Monday’s first game the unbeaten San Jose Earthquakes advanced to the quarterfinals with a 5-2 rout of Real Salt Lake. The Quakes will play the winner of Tuesday’s Columbus-Minnesota game on Saturday; LAFC will meet Orlando City on Friday.
“We have a team mentality, that it’s next man up,” forward Danny Musovski said of LAFC. “There’s no transition period so everyone has to step up.”
No one stepped up bigger than Rossi.
“Diego has been a really good player every year but he’s grown,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said. “He’s improved. He’s worked really hard on his finishing.”
LAFC (2-0-2 in the tournament and 3-0-3 on the season) pressed from the start Monday, taking three shots in the first 10 minutes although it had nothing to show for that until Seattle defender Xavier Arreaga tripped Rossi with a reckless challenge at the top of the box in the 13th minute.
Rossi calmly slotted the resulting penalty try under Sounders keeper Stefan Frei and just inside the right post for his seventh goal of the season and 35th since 2018. Only Vela and three other MLS players have more over that span.
Blessing doubled the score in the 39th minute, with his right-footed cross intended for Bradley Wright-Phillips caroming off the shoulder of Seattle defender Kelvin Leerdam and into the net.
LAFC put just three shots on goal in the first half and two of them went in. For the Sounders it was the first time they faced a multigoal deficit in 14 games in all competition dating to last September.
The battered Sounders (1-1-1, 2-2-2), who beat LAFC in last season’s Western Conference final en route to its second MLS title in four years, were missing five players to injury Monday and took a while to get on track offensively, managing just one shot in the first hour.
Bruin’s goal briefly woke the Sounders, who nearly tied the score two minutes later only to see LAFC keeper Kenneth Vermeer deflect Raul Ruidiaz’s right-footed shot wide at the near post.
“It’s a big save at an important time,” Bradley said. “That really gives the team confidence when the goalkeeper comes through like that.”
Rossi then gave LAFC an insurance goal eight minutes before the end of regulation, taking the ball from
Arreaga deep in the penalty area and beating Frei with a right-footed shot to the far side. It was his 36th goal in two-plus seasons in MLS; Vela is one just four players with more over that span.
When Rodriguez finished the scoring with his second goal of the tournament, it gave LAFC 15 in four games in Florida and a league-high 19 on the season.
Baxter reported from Los Angeles.