In so far as the Seattle Sounders are concerned, there was quite a lot to be proud of from their 2-1 loss in the second leg of the Western Confernce sem-finals against FC Dallas. While it took extra time and penalties to fully decide the 2-legged tie, the Sounders went toe-to-toe with a young FC Dallas team and held their own despite coming off a week where they played 3 games in 7 days.
For the first 45 minutes on Sunday, the Sounders controlled the game despite surrendering several counterattacks to Dallas. Those are going to happen, but the important point was reducing the opportunity and mitigating impact when they did happen. In the first half, the Sounders were good at that. In the second half, Dallas dropped their reliance on the counterattack and instead used the Seattle Sounders potent offensive weapons against themselves.
Clint Dempsey, Nelson Valdez, and Obafemi Martins are good-to-great players. The problem is despite the differences in their skillsets they all love to occupy the same spaces on the field. While each has their own predilection in that Valdez tends to drift wide right, Martins high, and Dempsey left, what happens is they all end up in the center more often than not. At those times, the Sounders are easily exploitable on defense. And that's exactly what Dallas did in the final 45 minutes of Sunday's game.
Micheal Barrios was their main instrument occupying a more central role and playing off the shoulder of Mauro Diaz. Playing what is ostensibly an inverted winger off the shoulder of a false 10 was an odd tactical choice, but it was undeniably effective. With Dempsey tucked in, large swathes of space on the left side of the pitch were open and poor Oneil Fisher was an island unto himself. With either Kellyn Acosta or Je Vaughn Watson flooding into that space, it left Dallas with numerical advantage that they then further compounded on with Barrios' inside-out runs behind the fullback.
To his credit, Fisher was usually right on his heels, restricting the Colombian to put balls into the box too soon and without the advantage of secondary runners. When Dempsey was in proper defensive posture, occupying and restricting that open space, Fisher actually excelled as those same runs from Barrios' were marked tighter and ending ineffectively with Dallas at most just able to send in crosses into the box. Given the way Chad Marshall, Zach Scott, and Andy Rose tend to eat those for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it wasn't a particularly effective strategy.
To a great degree, FC Dallas weren't head-and-shoulders above the Sounders in that half. They had a single effective attacking plan and it only worked when the Sounders three designated players farther up the pitch failed in their two-way duties. Their lone goal from open play came from a rare fullback overlap after Barrios made a terrible outside-in run that served only to isolate him from his teammates, and then Je Vaughn Watson beat Andreas Ivanschitz cheating against playing the ball inside after a quick restart. It was less a coordinated attack and just a happy set of events for Dallas.
But with a season over, there's only so much we can glean from this match going forward. The propensity to play narrow up top has ramifications farther down the pitch, especially against a team like FC Dallas. Normally they have Lamar Neagle as a solid two-way player who will stay wide and keep the play in front of him. But for some reason, Lamar Neagle can't seem to get a sniff of the Sounders bench right now and that's not a good look given he is the exact type of player they needed on Sunday. And if that is going to continue, the Sounder need to seriously look at whether having a trio of very similar DPs is viable or whether they need to invest in some serious two-way wide midfielders this off season.