After a week of drama revolving around the Seattle Sounders' options in attack, it was the defense that decided a chippy match against FC Dallas in difficult, scorching conditions in Frisco, Texas. The game had little flow thanks to physical play by both teams and the quick whistle of referee David Gantar, resulting in 41 total fouls called. But the Sounders showed huge character in holding onto a 1-goal lead against one of the best team offenses in the league.
The prematch lineups revealed that Mike Fucito's performance in the win over Communicaciones in the Champions League had earned him a start over Nate Jaqua and Pat Noonan. Both fullbacks were also new. Leo Gonzalez went in at left back after spending most of the season on the bench behind Tyson Wahl. And even more surprising was Zach Scott coming in at right back to spell James Riley. The changes hinted that Sigi was willing to give up some attacking skill from the fullbacks in exchange for size and strength.
The defensive changes certainly seemed to work as Scott was able to continually fend off Brek Shea, a much bigger attacker who Riley had trouble with in the home leg of the matchup earlier in the season. And Gonzalez was his usual stalwart defensive self on the other side. With neither fullback particularly aggressive about getting forward, they were rarely burned by the speedy players up and down Dallas' roster.
The offensive issues are still unresolved. The Sounders' goal came off of a great counterattack pass from Fredy Montero to Mauro Rosales, who showed composure in powering a shot inside Kevin Hartman's near post. But other than that, chances were few and far between. Fucito and Montero were often occupying the same space and the team was unable to find clean passes and hold the ball in the offensive half. The lack of chances was particularly unfortunate given the absence of George John to suspension and an early injury to Zach Loyd, resulting in a pretty patchwork Dallas defense.
Despite going down a man in the second half on a second yellow (for diving, of all things), Dallas poured on pressure in the second half and Seattle had to rely on desperate defending, including a number of sliding blocks and two world class reflex saves from Kasey Keller. The offense was largely irrelevant in the second half until the final moments of the game, when FCD was pushing hard enough for an equalizer that big gaps opened up in back and Seattle was able to find some space. But even then the only chances were a speculative long shot by Brad Evans and an Alvaro Fernandez header that was well wide.
But regardless of the ragged nature of the game, the Sounders earned 3 huge points in unquestionably their toughest game remaining in the regular season. The win leapfrogs us over Dallas in the Western Standings, which increases our odds of hosting the final leg of a two-legged Conference Semifinal and keeps the door slightly open for a chance to move by the LA Galaxy and win the Supporters Shield.
And there's no rest for the weary as Seattle now looks to a difficult (and also hot) away match in Mexico versus Confederation champions Monterrey