The Seattle Sounders came back from a one-goal deficit at halftime to take a 1-1 draw from FC Dallas in the first leg of their MLS Western Conference semifinal on Sunday. Michel scored from the penalty spot for the home team before Osvaldo Alonso put home a header on a set piece in the second half to knot the score for good.
Dallas put pressure on Seattle as the match neared its conclusion, but goalkeeper Stefan Frei came up big at key moments -- as did Raúl Fernández on the opposite end in the first half -- to maintain the result. The two teams meet again for the decisive match on Nov. 10 (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Here are three thoughts in the immediate aftermath of the Sounders and Dallas’ 1-1 match in the first half of their series:
1. Seattle reacted much better to conceding first than they had in previous seasons: In 2011 and 2012, the Sounders lost the opening leg of their playoff series by a score 3-0, effectively burying them before they could even make the flight home. This time, head coach Sigi Schmid and his team managed the early deficit more effectively. Seattle stayed disciplined in the defensive third and scored on an opportunistic set piece to give it an important away goal.
Schmid said this week that his team’s downfall in previous series was reacting too aggressively to going down a goal on the road. The Sounders understood this year that a 1-0 loss wouldn’t be horrible, especially playing the second leg in the cauldron of CenturyLink Field. Instead of panicking, they played not to concede a second and succeeded, finding one of their own in the process.
2. Raúl Fernández makes strange decisions coming off his line, but he’s as good a shot-stopper as MLS offers: Without the goalkeeper’s interventions on Sunday, Dallas could have been the team out of the tie before the second leg began. He stopped Obafemi Martins one-on-one and then again with an outstretched hand from close range on Seattle’s best chances of the first half, and he didn’t take himself out of the match by trying to play outside his means.
The second half was much more straightforward for Fernández, as Seattle contented itself with an away goal on which the Peruvian international didn’t put a foot wrong. In common parlance, goalkeepers peak around their 30th year, and Fernández, 29, had an effective if frustrating regular season in 2014. He split time with Chris Seitz due to a series of injuries in the spring, but he seemed to have come away from his experience a bit more mature and levelheaded.
3. Osvaldo Alonso proved again that he is the best player in Sounders franchise history: Seattle’s midfield engine, a tough tackler and an unheralded attacking weapon, scored his third playoff goal for Seattle on Sunday. That tied him with Eddie Johnson for the franchise lead, and Alonso has scored in three of the last four MLS postseasons. All it took was a deft touch on a glancing header off Marco Pappa’s free-kick service, who made amends for his atrocious tackle that conceded Dallas’ first-half penalty.
Alonso, 28, always plays well in important matches, and he was rewarded for that with a Designated Player contract in the offseason. He anchored an important defensive effort on Sunday in keeping the score line at 1-1 before the second leg, maintaining his steady, calming presence in front of the center backs as usual. His away goal tilts the tie decidedly in Seattle’s favor heading back to the Emerald City in eight days’ time.