Let's just get this out of the way first: The Seattle Sounders are going to the Western Conference finals for just the second time in their six-year MLS history. That's worth being excited about, really excited about, in fact. That the advancement lacked the satisfaction that, say, a 5-0 whomping over your opponent would bring, the Sounders are still exactly where they want to be: One step away from their first-ever MLS Cup final.
Now that we've had some time to let that accomplishment sink in, it's worth looking back at how the Sounders got here.
1. The defense came up huge: Virtually all season we've been worrying about the Sounders' ability to keep the opposition off the scoreboard. The 50 goals they allowed were as many as any other playoff team -- it's worth noting that other team is also in the conference finals -- but they've come up huge when they needed to.
Over their last six games, the Sounders have allowed just four goals. That's not crazy impressive, sure, but that's a solid defensive record when you consider five of those games were against playoff teams. Against FC Dallas, the defense was even better. Michel's penalty was the only goal Dallas scored over 180 minutes and the backline more than held its own against an attack that had scored the fourth most goals in the league. Chad Marshall has received most of the plaudits, but Zach Scott, DeAndre Yedlin and Leo Gonzalez all did their part and Stefan Frei continues to get better seemingly every week.
There's a huge test coming in a couple weeks, but the Sounders can go into the Galaxy matchup reasonably confident they can repeat what they did in the season finale.
2. Let us thank the soccer gods that there's a break built into the playoffs: When Osvaldo Alonso was pulled from the match, my immediate thought was "well, this was fun." Alonso is, after all, arguably the Sounders' most important player. Sure, it can be argued that Chad Marshall is more irreplaceable and the forward tandem of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins are better, but no one on the roster can do what Alonso does. He covers so much ground and breaks up so many plays while making life easier on every teammate and harder on every opponent.
There appears to be at least some hope that Alonso will be ready to go next week against the Galaxy. That's absolutely massive news.
But even if Alonso isn't able to go, the Sounders at least have some time to prepare. Maybe Andy Rose is back by then. Maybe Micheal Azira is able to use that extra time to pick up a few more bits and pieces. Whatever it is, more time is clearly better in this case.
3. Offense, where hast thou gone?: It's not a massive concern, yet, but the Sounders' offense has not really been clicking for several weeks. Yes, they've been scoring at a reasonable enough clip -- five goals in five games is not panic time -- but we're kidding ourselves if we don't think something has been a bit off in that time.
There were positive signs against Dallas, though. Dempsey and Martins were both able to get out on the break -- usually a sign that things are going well -- and the 75 percent passing and 14 shots were both stark improvements over the past couple games. But as improved as the Sounders' collective defending has looked over the past month or so, they are going to need to find a few goals to beat the Galaxy. Now would be a good time to rediscover that form.
That's what he said
"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." - Zach Scott, on the crowd.
The number you need to know
1 -- Ever since the Sounders entered MLS in 2009, there have been three two-legged playoff series in which the advancing team scored just once, all three times the Sounders were involved. The Houston Dynamo beat the Sounders 1-0 over two legs in 2009 and the Sounders beat RSL 1-0 in 2012. The total goals were different, but the result was the same this time. One goal was enough. Fine with me.