Sounders rally past FC Dallas to take conference semifinal series lead
SEATTLE – The Seattle Sounders came back from an early deficit on Sunday to take the lead in their MLS conference semifinal playoff series, 2-1 over FC Dallas. The away side conceded twice in the second half after scoring early, but it was largely a frustrating night for the Sounders, who struggled to create scoring opportunities until late.
Fabián Castillo scored the first goal of the game off Mauro Díaz’s sublime ball through the Seattle back line on a counterattack in the 18th minute. Díaz bent his pass around Sounders center back Zach Scott, making the finish simple for Castillo.
After the break, Seattle equalized through midseason signing Andreas Ivanschitz. The Austrian international brought down a loose ball in the 67th minute off a long clearance out of the back and dribbled 25 yards diagonally before slotting a shot across his body and inside the far post.
The winner came as Clint Dempsey stepped up to a free kick just outside the penalty area with a just moments remaining. He curled a shot into the upper corner in the 87th minute, sending a raucous home crowd into a frenzy and completing the turnaround.
The teams will go at it again after a week’s rest, this time in Frisco, Texas, where Seattle will begin with the slim advantage due to the win, although Dallas did score a vital away goal. Here are three quick thoughts on the first leg:
Sounders missed presence of Alonso, Evans
For only the fourth time in an MLS match this season, neither Osvaldo Alonso nor Brad Evans featured in the Seattle starting lineup. The Sounders have lost two of those games, but both the wins came at home against Dallas: 3-0 on June 13 and 2-1 on Sunday.
Without the pair, Seattle has glaring gaps in a couple of areas. Alonso provides that vital link between defense and attack as one of the league’s best tacklers and passers molded into one. Erik Friberg and Andy Rose couldn’t match that presence, which includes Alonso’s average of 92 percent pass completion, the best in MLS.
Evans is a vital leader and the team captain, who plays a number of positions in his role as facilitator for the talented players around him. When he misses games, it usually leads to a jumbled lineup for Seattle, including playing Rose in midfield, rookie Oniel Fisher at left back and Scott, a club legend but not its best defender by any means, in central defense.
As a result, Seattle always looked a little nervous when the ball approached its goal. The biggest thing Alonso and Evans provides isn’t necessarily attacking firepower, as Dempsey and Obafemi Martins have plenty, but a security blanket to allow a forward-thinking style of play to support the two forwards.
Seattle’s comeback showed life, turning the narrative quickly
The Sounders adopted a no-nonsense approach in the second half to compensate for their defensive issues, getting the ball forward as early as possible and looking for Martins and Dempsey in the attacking third. It wasn’t pretty, with the first breakthrough coming on a languid long ball that fell to Ivanschitz’s feet, but the Sounders will take the goals they scored and run to Texas with them.
They responded well to a frustrating first half, resulting in the majority of possession and chances in the second. Dallas looked content to absorb and even looked dangerous on the counter in the opening 45 minutes, but the momentum shifted notably after the break.
The first goal settled a nervy Seattle attack and energized the crowd of 39,599 home fans. The second turned the post-game narrative a complete 180 degrees, suddenly looking much more positive for the Sounders. It’s supposed to be much more difficult to win on the road in the playoffs, which is why the higher seed plays away in the first leg, but Seattle will have a slight advantage heading into next week’s game.
Heart and desire win it again for Seattle
With a vital away goal in the bag early, Dallas never really looked to be in a huge rush to get another. Seattle provides a difficult environment for opposing teams to win, on the artificial turf with American football lines faintly visible that’s set within the greater cauldron of CenturyLink Field.
As such, it wasn’t much of a surprise to see Óscar Pareja’s men take their time getting the ball back into play at every chance they got. Even before halftime, goalkeeper Jesse González took down long balls without his hands, enticing pressure from the Sounders attackers before actually picking up the ball.
It all fell apart in the second half, though. Seattle continued to press, spurred on by the confidence boost of Ivanschitz’s goal and a receding Dallas defense, and got its reward for never losing faith.
Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid talks a lot about the character of his team, and it came through for the second time in this young playoff season on Sunday. Especially for a franchise built on its strong individual components, those intangibles are vital to get important results—such as this one.
Schmid and his team will laud those same qualities again, as they did after defeating the LA Galaxy in midweek, and deservedly so. They’re what won them this game as well.