SEATTLE -- Holding on for a scoreless draw on Monday, the Seattle Sounders won their MLS Western Conference semifinal series on away goals against FC Dallas. They carried one strike into the match from their 1-1 tie eight days prior.
Despite both teams’ chances in a match marked by quick counterattacks each direction, nobody could find the back of the net in front of 38,912 fans at CenturyLink Field.
With the series victory, Seattle sets up the expected conference final series against the LA Galaxy. The two teams faced off to finish the regular season, with a 2-2 draw on Oct. 19 in Los Angeles and a 2-0 Sounders win on Oct. 25 in Seattle.
Here are three thoughts on the match:
1. Obafemi Martins used his speed to great effect to relieve pressure on Seattle’s defense and wind down the clock.
In the first half, as Dallas put pressure on Stefan Frei’s goal, Martins remained high as the lone outlet. The Sounders looked for him with an immediate vertical ball to break pressure. Martins burst into the penalty area and combined well with Clint Dempsey to turn the momentum the opposite direction. It didn’t result in any goals, as Chris Seitz turned in three massive saves on Dempsey, but it got the job done in the circumstances.
As Dallas pushed numbers forward, gaps opened in the back line and Martins was able to exploit them. Late in the game, rather than dribbling at goal and into areas with the highest pressure, the Nigerian international looked for open spaces and moved toward them with the ball. Martins showed the savvy of a former Serie A champion with Inter Milan in 2005-06 by resisting the allure of the goal to waste the waning, precious moments of FC Dallas’ season.
2. FC Dallas manager Óscar Pareja has done well without having (seemingly) much at his disposal the last two years.
His strengths obviously lie in coaching youth, which is where he got his start with Dallas after finishing his playing career, and it’s shown with the Colorado Rapids and Dallas. With both, he took young teams of which little was expected into the playoffs.
To understand his effect in Denver, look no further than the Rapids’ demise after Pareja left. A return to Dallas suited him, though, and he was able to see several of his youth projects through as first-team manager. Just as he did last year with the Rapids, Pareja played his cards about as well as he could have against a tough Sounders team. But as Colorado did last year, Dallas fell just short, despite having a shot to win in the return leg this time.
3. Osvaldo Alonso would be a big loss for the Sounders’ matchup with LA, but he’s got two weeks to recover before it starts.
Alonso pulled up with a hamstring injury in the 56th minute after a short sprint in midfield, and he immediately came off for Micheal Azira. Seattle’s depth in midfield drops off dramatically after its top-choice lineup of Marco Pappa, Alonso, Gonzalo Pineda and Brad Evans, with Lamar Neagle providing really the only option off the bench (and he doesn’t play in the middle).
Not only did Alonso score the Sounders’ crucial away goal in the first leg, but he kept the game ticking in midfield as well. He completed 85 percent of his passes at home after an 83-percent performance last week, flying under the radar on both sides of the ball besides his goal. The good news for Seattle is that the first match of the Western Conference final isn’t until Nov. 23, giving him nearly two weeks to heal. However, Seattle would struggle without him.