A closer look at how the Sounders dominated MLS-leading Dallas
Not many people expected much from the Sounders as they hosted league leaders FC Dallas on Wednesday, and even the visitors fielded a weakened lineup that left out star players like Mauro Diaz, Fabian Castillo and Michael Barrios. Whether or not the home side was offended by the perceived affront, the Sounders came out swinging from the very first minute and it paid off.
Despite such an emphatic victory for the Sounders, it doesn’t erase the fact that this roster still needs work and that the club needs to start patching those holes in the current transfer window. We won’t know the lasting effects (if any) that this win will have on Seattle’s season as a whole, but it’s worth looking at how the Sounders were so dominant and why they haven’t looked like this all season.
Figueroa’s red card and Dempsey’s penalty changed the game, but the Sounders were already dominant. It was just the fourth minute when the red card and penalty were called, but the incident only occurred because Andreas Ivanschitz’s shot was goal-bound and would have likely gone in had Maynor Figueroa not blocked it with his hand.
The Sounders continued to impress at 10 vs. 10. Clint Dempsey was sent off in the 33rd minute, and even though the Sounders were already up 3-0, they continued to dominate. They played the entire second half 10 vs. 10 and scored two more goals while keeping Dallas stars Barrios, Castillo, and Kellyn Acosta from making any impact on the result.
Dallas fielded a weakened lineup, but it wasn’t as weak as it appeared. Seven players from Dallas’ starting 11 had started at least 15 matches this season. Dallas may have missed a handful of star attackers, but four of its starting back five were regulars. Even Dallas coach Oscar Pareja admitted that he couldn’t use that as an excuse, as he had to look ahead to the team’s congested fixture list. The Sounders have the same number of matches, though they didn’t have to travel as much as Dallas has in the last week. Either way, the Sounders took it to a strong defense that has only lost once since May 7.
In fact, Dallas’ defense simply just looked like it switched off. Especially after the red card to Figueroa, it seemed like Dallas’ back four lacked leadership and urgency. The goals from Ivanschitz and Jordan Morris especially exemplified this.
The Sounders leaned into their best tactics, and it paid off. Much has been made of the Sounders’ apparent switch to a 4-3-3 this season, but like many of their best moments, they seemed much more comfortable when they looked like a 4-4-2. The fluidity was there and every player looked at ease in his respective position. Dempsey and Morris looked a lot like a strike duo up top, and Cristian Roldan and Ivanschitz shifted up and down the pitch at just the right times.
Seattle’s shots and chances were more about quality than quantity. Everyone (including myself) has been talking about the Sounders’ 22 shots and zero goals on Saturday, and their performance in front of goal against Dallas was basically the opposite: 12 total shots (compared to only two by Dallas) with seven on target and five going into the net. Practice in front of goal surely helped this, but in the end I think it was more due to the quality of the chances created. A few things had to go the right way, but the assists from Dempsey, Ivanschitz and Osvaldo Alonso were nearly perfect.
The kids might finally be alright. It says a lot that the Sounders’ best performance this season was flush with a lot of youth. Morris, Roldan, Joevin Jones, Oniel Fisher, Aaron Kovar and Oalex Anderson all had their moments and contributed to a comprehensive victory. Roldan has come into his own this season, and he should stick around for many years to come. Not all of those players will play like that all season, but it points to the possibilities for the club once a little rebuilding and tweaking happens in the near future.
Seattle’s fullbacks kept Dallas’ speedsters in check. Even though Castillo and Barrios weren’t a problem until the second half, the Sounders’ own speedy young fullbacks did a great job containing Dallas’ wingers. Fisher started with the expectation that he’d be needed to mark Castillo, but the fullback was as good on attack as he was on defense and could have made his case to start over Tyrone Mears in the future.
This match may or may not have opened the floodgates for Seattle’s attack, and it might paper over the team’s cracks in the short term. Either way, it should provide a huge confidence boost heading into a tough Cascadia rivalry match on Sunday against Portland. The Sounders need all they can get if they hope to rescue what looks like a dire 2016 season, and hopefully for them, that confidence will be boosted by an infusion of new players in the coming weeks.
Spenser Davis also covers the Sounders for Sounder at Heart.