3 keys: Sounders need to avoid the away goal in 1st leg of Western semifinals vs FC Dallas

Oct 29, 2016, 1:05 PM

The Sounders won one of their three matches against FC Dallas during the regular season. (AP)...

The Sounders won one of their three matches against FC Dallas during the regular season. (AP)


It wasn’t the greatest match in the world, but the Sounders did all they had to do to get to the next round of the 2016 MLS Cup playoffs. I definitely didn’t expect to type those words back in July, but here we are. Next, Seattle faces Supporters’ Shield-winning FC Dallas in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday.

FC Dallas comes into this match at the very top of all of MLS, with two trophies in tow and a bye in the knockout round. It will be refreshed and ready to go, whereas the Sounders will have about two days of rest after their match on Thursday. The two sides played three times this season: a 2-0 Sounders loss in Dallas, a 5-0 win in Seattle, and 2-1 loss in Dallas earlier this month.

Kickoff is 6:30 p.m. on KIRO 97.3 FM. Here are three keys for Seattle on Sunday:

1. No Diaz for Dallas. After FCD’s talismanic midfielder Mauro Diaz went out of the last match between the clubs with an Achilles injury that ended his season, Dallas lost the creative hub of their dominant squad. As I said in my column, Dallas occasionally struggles on defense when its offense isn’t at full strength and blazing down the pitch at every opportunity. With Diaz going down and Fabian Castillo having transferred earlier this season, Dallas is without its two most potent weapons, but it’s still very, very good on the counter. Miguel Barrios, Tesho Akindele and Maximiliano Urruti are quick, technical, and can overwhelm slow or tired players in an instant. Seattle played well against it in the match a few weeks ago, and Dallas’ two goals came from a silly free kick and poor defense in the final minutes. If the Sounders continue to contain the counter well, they’ll have that part taken care of in this match.

2. Set pieces. I feel like this is my second point nearly every week, but as we saw against Real Salt Lake, set pieces can make or break a tight match. Both teams are very good in the air and have strong dead-ball specialists, making this match ripe for a set piece goal or two. Seattle’s best chances against KC, aside from the goal, were from corners and deep free kicks. Roman Torres and Chad Marshall came agonizingly close to scoring more than once but put their shots wide or high. They’ll need to be even sharper against Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman on both offensive and defensive set pieces. Dallas’ pinball-like goal against Seattle earlier this month is the other sort of set piece that the Sounders should try to avoid as much as possible. Silly fouls near the box could be fatal against a team as good in those spaces as FC Dallas.

3. Beware the away goal. I have no doubt that Sounders interim head coach Brian Schmetzer will send his men onto the pitch intending to attack as much as possible in front of a raucous home crowd, but he’ll likely be preparing his defense to bunker down fairly often as well. Away goals have gone both ways for the Sounders in the last two rounds of the playoffs, so they know full well the damage that an away goal for Dallas could do, even if the Sounders notched one or two of their own. Considering the difficult time Seattle have had scoring in Dallas this year (their only goal between two matches was a very clever free kick by Nicolas Lodeiro), they’ll want to have the upper hand, because there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to get an away goal of their own in the second leg. The Sounders should attack early and try to notch an early goal like they did against Real Salt Lake, but follow it with a stout and organized defensive showing that allows them to head to Dallas with the upper hand.

Spenser Davis also covers the Sounders for Sounder at Heart.

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3 keys: Sounders need to avoid the away goal in 1st leg of Western semifinals vs FC Dallas