Sounders' defense stands tall, but road to historic Cup goes through LA
SEATTLE — Despite heavy criticism of his team’s defense during the regular season, Seattle Sounders manager Sigi Schmid said Monday that his back line is championship caliber. The Sounders gave up just one goal, a penalty kick, over two legs during the MLS Western Conference semifinal, defeating FC Dallas on away goals.
“Being able to defend well is an important part of trying to win a championship,” he said after a scoreless draw in the home leg at CenturyLink Field. “I know all during the season, the pundits were sort of saying, ‘Well, do they have a good enough defense to win it?’ I think we’ve proven over the last three or four weeks that play good enough defense for sure.”
With a 1-1 draw away from home a week prior, the Sounders knew a scoreless draw would mean advancement to the penultimate step before the MLS Cup final. Schmid said his team showed great character throughout the season in its 6-9-1 record when conceding the first goal and by scoring 30 in the last half-hour of matches, both of which were second-best in the league.
However, with the away-goals rule in effect for the first time this season, scoring wouldn’t be the challenge on Monday.
“Today was a different test of character: Can we defend? Can we be disciplined in that regard?” Schmid said. “To win MLS Cup, you’ve got to get into the next series, and that’s what we did. We don’t lose at home when we play our second game at home.”
The Sounders are 2-0-1 in second legs of playoff series when they play at home. The draw against Dallas was the only result that sent Seattle through to the next round, though, as the two wins came after 3-0 losses to Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
Seattle plays LA next, after the Galaxy defeated RSL, 5-0, on Sunday. The last time they met in the playoffs included that lopsided result in the first leg at the StubHub Center.
The two teams also faced off in a home-and-away series at the end of the 2014 regular season to decide the Supporters’ Shield champion. After the Sounders came back from a 2-0 deficit to draw 2-2 at LA on Oct. 19, they benefited from a Marco Pappa brace in the last five minutes to win 2-0 on Oct. 25 at home.
“We have to play well, but we also know that we can play them and that even if we’re down, we can come back,” Schmid said. “There are going to be more chances [to score] just because of the way they play. It’s going to be a great series.”
Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins combined well in attack despite failing to score against Dallas, with goalkeeper Chris Seitz deftly denying Dempsey on all three of his shots on target. Martins’ speed caused trouble all night as well, as he got behind the Dallas defense with a deceptive change of pace.
“I thought we looked good. We didn’t just sit back and try to not concede,” Dempsey said. “We tried to go out and win the game and try to get goals, and we created good chances. … I should have scored tonight, at least one.”
After their showdown to decide the Supporters’ Shield, it seems fitting the two best teams in the West would match up again with the opportunity to host an MLS Cup final on the line. After the Sounders won the Shield and the U.S. Open Cup earlier in the year, they’re still on track for the first treble in MLS history.
“We’re a team that, we believe in ourselves. To win the Supporters’ Shield, we had to play two games against them and get the right results,” Dempsey said. “Whoever we play, we play. We don’t really try to run through these storybook things, but to be the best, you’ve got to play against the best.”
Still, with the battle of Dempsey and Martins versus the Galaxy’s Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, this is probably the series the television executives were clamoring for. The first leg kicks off after the international break, on Nov. 23 at StubHub Center (5 p.m. ET, ESPN), with the return match on Nov. 30 (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).
“I guess that’s the way the scriptwriters put it out,” Schmid said. “We knew the road would eventually go through there as they knew probably the road would go through us. So it’s probably appropriate that the two of us meet. We just have to be ready, and we will be.”