A team with many questions about its defense answered those in its first MLS Cup Playoff series of 2014. Seattle Sounders FC managed to hold FC Dallas, a top offense, to just a single shot on target in the deciding leg of the Western Conference Semifinals. The zero-zero draw combined with the first leg one-one puts Seattle through to face the LA Galaxy.
One of the keys was containing Fabian Castillo. The dynamic winger for FCD is known for his speed and his dribble. While he had four successful dribbles he failed seven other times. Castillo's failure to dominate in ways he normally does is a snapshot of the Dallas' night.
They could not threaten through their normal routes. Speed play was not enough. Their ability to draw dangerous fouls was dampened. Only three times did Seattle foul in their own half. That made Michel useless.
The Sounders were aggressive on goal. Clint Dempsey, Marco Pappa, Obafemi Martins and Brad Evans regularly threatened the net. Conversion was an issue. On Monday night the defense was enough.
DAL - Moises Hernandez (caution) 14'
LINEUPS & STATS
Seattle Sounders FC - Stefan Frei; DeAndre Yedlin, Chad Marshall, Zach Scott, Leo Gonzalez; Brad Evans ©, Osvaldo Alonso (Micheal Azira, 56), Gonzalo Pineda, Marco Pappa (Lamar Neagle, 59); Clint Dempsey (Djimi Traore, 90+3), Obafemi Martins
Substitutes Not Used: Marcus Hahnemann, Jalil Anibaba, Kenny Cooper, Chad Barrett
Total Shots: 14 (Clint Dempsey, 6)
Shots on Goal: 5 (Clint Dempsey, 3)
Fouls: 11 (Obafemi Martins/Gonzalo Pineda, 2)
Offside: 1 (Obafemi Martins, 1)
Corner Kicks: 6 (Marco Pappa/Gonzolo Pineda, 3)
Saves: 1 (Stefan Frei, 1)
FC Dallas - Chris Seitz; Je-Vaughn Watson, Zach Loyd, Matt Hedges ©, Moises Hernandez (Walker Zimmerman, 85), Tesho Akindele, Michel (David Texeira, 86), Victor Ulloa, Fabian Castillo; Mauro Diaz, Blas Perez (Andres Escobar, 80)
Substitutes Not Used: Raul Fernandez, Kellyn Acosta, Ryan Hollingshead, Adam Moffat
Total Shots: 9 (3 players, 2)
Shots on Goal: 1 (Tesho Akindele, 1)
Fouls: 11 (3 players, 2)
Corner Kicks: 3 (Michel, 2)
Saves: 5 (Chris Seitz, 4)
SOUNDERS FC HEAD COACH SIGI SCHMID
"Obviously we are very excited we advanced and moved on. Being able to defend well is an important part of winning a championship. I know all through the season people have been saying ‘well do they have a good enough defense to win?' And I think we have proven over the past three or four weeks that we can play good enough defense for sure. Chad Marshall was outstanding out there again today, that's why I think he is the Defender of the Year for me. I felt like we did well. On the other end of the field I felt like we had some really good looks. I thought their goalkeeper came up with a big save. [There are] possibilities on if it's a penalty or if it's not a penalty on Obafemi Martins. I thought we had some good looks and we just missed a little bit on our shots, but that'll come. If you're creating chances, that's what you're happy about as a coach. If you're not creating any chances, then you worry, but I was thinking we were creating chances so I was pleased that way. Great effort by the guys putting themselves in the conference finals, and we will continue to go forward."
On Osvaldo Alonso's injury:
"We will know tomorrow. Obviously it is a hamstring. We've got two weeks, so you'll see. [Gonzalo] Pineda had a little bit of a glut pull and he was able to come back in a week's time, so Ozzie's a pretty determined guy, a pretty hardworking guy, so we'll see how he moves forward."
On playing for the shutout:
"We talked about it-we said that we are not going to give up a goal and we are going to show that we can defend. On the same end, [we said] that we were going to get our opportunities to score. I thought we had good opportunities; we had good looks. I thought we had more shots than them, we had more opportunities, more shots on target as well-I was pleased with that part of it. It's not like tactically we went out with a different plan; we would have played the exact same way."
On advancing to the Conference Finals:
"In order to win MLS Cup you got to win the next series, and that's what we did. We don't lose at home when we've played our second game at home... That's something we want to continue to do, and we have to keep moving along. It's a journey."
On looking ahead to LA Galaxy:
"We know LA is a good team. Salt Lake is a good team and their win last night was a little bit surprising... We know we have to be ready; we have to play well. We also know that we can play them, and even if we're down we can come back. With LA I know there is going to be more opportunities with Clint and Oba, and there are going to be more chances just because the way they play. It's going to be a great series."
On Lamar Neagle's substitution:
"I thought Lamar came in and did well. He came in and helped us out defensively, as well. He had some opportunities going forward. I thought he did what I needed him to do."
On facing LA again:
"I guess that's the way scriptwriters put it out. We knew the road would eventually go through there, as we knew the road would eventually go through us. It's probably appropriate that the two of us meet. We just have to be ready and we will be."
On the defense's performance:
"I thought it was good. I thought it was a good defensive effort. I thought it was solid from Chad and Zach [Scott] from the middle of the back and I thought Leo Gonzalez had a very good game. That's a difficult assignment dealing with [Fabian] Castillo. And DeAndre Yedlin, I know he is getting forward a little less, but his defending has certainly been rock solid. That's an area of his game he knew he had to improve upon. I thought all throughout the game the guys were really cognizant of making sure they doubled up their speed guys and give them a chance to unfurl their game. We were a little surprised that they waited until 80 minutes until they tried to go with extra forwards and bring on [Andres] Escobar. We thought that was going to happen sooner, but it is the way it is."
SOUNDERS FC FORWARD CLINT DEMPSEY
On the defensive performance:
"I thought they were solid. I thought they did a great job. We played well, we created some great chances. I had two really good looks at goal; I should have scored at least one of those. I am frustrated about that, but I thought we looked good. We didn't just sit back and try not to concede. We tried to go out and score one or two goals and tried to really take the game to them. I thought we played well."
On playing LA again:
"We are a team that believes in ourselves. To win the Supporter's Shield we had to play two games against them and get the right result, so we're a team that's done well this season in terms of silverware, the U.S. Open Cup and winning the league. We have that confidence moving forward, so we feel good."
On combining with Obafemi Martins:
"I loved playing with Oba. He's a great player, a world class player. We have a good chemistry, I think you could see that all year. We work well together, [we] create chances for each other, and tonight together we created a good chance, a give and go, I played him and he played the ball back to me. I anticipated the keeper to be moving over to try to cover the far post so I tried to go near post with it, but I should have done a better job with that one. That's one I should have scored on."
On what the team did well tonight:
"We play with confidence. We didn't sit back and tried not to concede. We tried to go out and win the game and get goals. We created good chances... At the end of the day we are happy going into the next round."
SOUNDERS FC DEFENDER ZACH SCOTT
On the performance of the back four:
"I don't know if it's the back four and the goalie playing exceptional or more of just the team defending well. We got a lot of good pressure from Clint and Oba up top. The midfielders really buckled down and limited service up to the forwards. As a back four we are really comfortable with each other and Stefan [Frei] is playing lights-out. Everything comes together at the right time."
On rating the team's defense the last few games:
"I think we're good, but it's typical of what you want to see when the playoffs come. It's going to be a lot of games that you end up grinding out results and I think we are all savvy veterans who have played enough playoff games that some games aren't going to be very pretty. It's going to be one where you have to buckle up and go along for the ride."
On playing in front of tonight's crowd:
"It was tremendous. The crowd really was amazing tonight. You could definitely feel the energy and it was one of those where you almost feel like a goal was going to happen because the ball was getting sucked back into their half with the crowd cheering. It has been the same way all year, it was just tremendous."
SOUNDERS FC GOALKEEPER STEFAN FREI
On defending FC Dallas:
"They have a guy who is exceptionally good at set-pieces and they have a lot of pace with guys who can come at you. If you let them run at you with speed they are going to hurt you. We funneled them out wide pretty well and we forced those individuals to put in crosses or turn around and go backwards but when they did put crosses in, you have Zach and Chad in the middle to clean up whatever comes their way and they help out big as well. We made sure they weren't able to use their strengths as much as possible and that worked out for us."
On playing LA in the Conference Finals:
"I think it's the best two teams in the West. That's what you want. I bet the league is pretty happy about that too. As a player that's probably what you want as well. You want to compete against the best and prove that you are the best. We had that little series against them before and did fairly well but now it's a different story so we need to get back to work and get better during the week in practice and be ready. Obviously they are a really good side, they proved that in their last game."
On the fans:
"They were awesome as usual. They are the best fans in the league and it is really good to move on for them. It is always exciting to play in front of them. They are a huge part of our squad. Hopefully we can keep making them proud."
FC DALLAS HEAD COACH OSCAR PAREJA
On the game:
"Good game. It's a credit to 20 years of work in this country for many people who are involved in the game. To see the crowd and the level of the two teams and the quality of play and passing - it was a great example of what we have done here in this country. I'm proud of it. I'm also very proud of my players. They did a good job. The plan was to be aggressive and put pressure on them the whole game, and there was much of the game where we felt we got what we wanted. We played against a very good team and very good players. We created some problems, especially in the counterattack, but nothing to regret. For me, it's an honor to coach these players and I want to send a message of gratitude to them to allow me to coach them. It's great - we're proud."
On Seattle's approach:
"It changed some things. Seattle came in today with a more defensive initiative, in my opinion. We were more aggressive. The game was tied anyway in Dallas so it could go either way. We were just one goal away from advancing to the next round. We had our chances and they had theirs too. The game was very level. Both teams came out with a lot of energy in trying to score a goal and control. It was a good match."
On his team's second-half possession:
"I remember a little time in the second half when [Seattle] controlled the ball, but if you see the numbers and the stats, I think we controlled the tempo. There was some parts in the second half when they pushed the lines up, but I felt we ran well. We're playing in their home and they tried to get some reactions, but in terms of the possession, I thought tonight our team did a great job. We kept it better than them."
On the season overall:
"I think it's positive. We have a group that is young. The group that you saw tonight - the majority of them are guys who have many years in front of them still. Maybe we don't have big names yet, but we have a team. What you saw was a group of guys where everybody was sticking to the fundamentals that we created here and sticking to the tactics that we have. We have an identity. If I look back, I think the boys had a great season. But they know that I'm very demanding and I'm not happy. I don't think we deserve to be out [of the playoffs]. There is a lot of work to do, but I'm proud of the season we had."
FC DALLAS FORWARD FABIAN CASTILLO
On the game:
"I think it was a difficult game for both teams. Seattle had many opportunities, we did as well. It was a close game, we knew it would be like that. It was a nice game, I think both teams gave a good show...the fans enjoyed it. We leave sad, but also happy because we know that we left it all on the field."
On the play of Seattle:
"Seattle is a great team, they have two forwards that make them look really good. They are very intelligent. It is a team that creates many opportunities...of course they are striving to be champions. They have "big name" players. And we wish them the best. I think we also did things well, but they advanced and we wish them the best and hope that it will be a nice final against LA."
FC DALLAS GOALKEEPER CHRIS SEITZ
On being eliminated with a shutout:
"We had a game plan going into it, as we always do. I think between the two legs we really executed it. We kept them at tough angles and made it easier on our backline... For us it's bitter, but at the end of the day we tied two games in a row. It's hard to swallow, but at the end of the day we put it all out there and we gave it our all. Tonight was a clear showing of that."
On the youthfulness of the team:
"Hopefully we can learn a lot from the two series we had. For us, we've had a young team throughout. We've had a lot of guys step up when they're called upon this year and I think that shows the amount of talent this team has. At the same time, we can't look at this as a benchmark-we have to look at this as a steppingstone to really move forward next year. We can really go a step further than where we are now and really push for it; hopefully we can use these games, these series and really move forward for next year."