I hope you've had a fun week because it is time to get serious. This season comes down to tomorrow. The Rave Green took it to Dallas and walked out with a 2-1 lead going to Texas. Don't let "it was just the free kick" or "Castillo scored" comments get you down, the Sounders were statistically and visibly better across all parts of the game while missing three of the side's top five defensive players.
Dallas was more efficient at passing in their attacking third than we were but only by a few percentage points, nothing alarming. The makeshift defensive grouping that included Zach Scott, Andy Rose, and Oniel Fisher saw a strong Dallas side get off 10 shots, but only putting three near the net and to add a cherry on top of the sundae only allowed one of the ten crosses to be completed. Fabian Castillo got a goal, on the counter after miscues in the attack lead to a poor defensive setup with Zach Scott losing a foot race and being caught flat footed chasing Castillo. Castillo's speed did win that round, but it was his only shot on goal and for most of the match was frustrated at his lack of chances. While there is talk that Leo or Evans could be back, it is more likely than not that even with about 60 minutes of match fitness they are held out to be late defensive subs as the Sounders close up shop. Expect the same back four as last match with Fisher, Marshall, Scott, Mears going from left to right.
The attack for FCD is unlikely to change with Mauro Diaz, David Texeira, and Fabian Castillo being the main players. Blas Perez could steal the start from Texeira but if Pareja's recent choices are any indication we will be seeing Texeira with Perez being a half time sub if they are still needing goals.
Stefan Frei and his backline proved superior in leg one and expect them to again. The backline is cohesive and has played together enough through the season, practice, and for those first 90 minutes. They trust each other and matchup well against a side who just likes to run the ball to the corners with Castillo. The Rave Green need to watch out for the speed of Castillo but as Dallas pushes looking for that goal, the more the backline will sit back and make it harder for the gaps to appear for Castillo's success. If the Sounders are forced to sit back look for early clearances instead of the typical passing out of the back to prevent the same error Scott had against LA late in the season.
Without Osvaldo Alonso there was concern how would the Sounders win the midfield. Against the Galaxy Friberg and Rose did admirably and they did again against Dallas. The pairing isn't as fast, as technical, or as physical as one including Ozzie but they get the job done. Seattle completed 76% of their passes compared to Dallas' 71% and Andy Rose was a key contributory to these. The wingers make dangerous passes and it is his job as Ozzie's replacement to facilitate the passing out of the back and connect with the wide players and forwards. A better attacker than Ozzie but not as deft with his touch makes him an interesting playing as a #6 and as one the best non-defenders when it came to intercepting and recoveries, Andy knew his place last week. Due to Friberg's ability to get forward and still defend well, unlike Pineda and Azira, it gives Rose a different place in the partnership than he's used to when replacing the Honey Badger.
Rose was able to sit back as a game manager and pick his spots, getting forward at the perfect time and threatening on goal with one of the Sounders seven shots on target while at the same time he prevent the backline from being exposed with the lone exception being Castillo's goal where only closing down Diaz better (multiple players near him not named Rose) would've put the Sounders in a better position. Ulloa and Cirigliano are great players physically at challenging for the ball but their ability to deliver passes or control the midfield are lacking. Both CMs are visibly lost in matches where they can't just shoulder and elbow their way into control of the ball. Quick passing and wing play render these two ineffective bordering on traffic cone levels.
I separated this from the midfield section because the Sounders will play on the wings both as a way to relive defensive pressure and push up the sidelines and with through balls out of the midfield to draw the wing backs wide and the CBs to each be 1v1 with a member of Clinfemi. The Sounders at multiple points lost their width with Pappa and Ivanschitz diving inside but with Friberg's ability to go out wide and Clint Dempsey's new found ability at left mid, as Ryan discussed here, meant the Sounders were able to do damage out wide. Dallas has some speed in their wing backs but both wing backs and attacking wingers are more determined to go forward and shoot than they are to defend. This benefits the Sounders greatly because it means either A) the attackers have to stay back and defend or B) their are less players defending. Expect the Sounders to be determined at staying wide again to push Barrios, Castillo, Watson, and Hollingshead back as far back as their can while exposing the defense with the clinical crossing of Pappa and Ivanschitz.
Whether Clint stays up top or slides around to find the ball or width, he is always a dangerous playmaker. Obafemi, the other half of Clintfemi, did not get to do a single backflip during leg one and we all know that makes him a very dangerous man in the next match. Time and time again against Dallas he exposed the CBs and beat players with speed. Three shots, two on goal, and numerous chances for the man who scores in green. Zach Lloyd and Matt Hedges are inexperienced CBs and they did a fairly good job in game one but the more the offense presses to find the goals to get through this leg, the more alone they'll be and will be easy pickings for the Sounders.
Expect Dallas to sit back and play the same way they did in leg one for about 30-35 minutes and if they don't have a goal by then they'll start pressing a little. If the score is still 2-1 Seattle at the half, or worse for Dallas, expect them to go to an all out attack and sub on Blas Perez and switch to a 3-5-2 or 4-1-3-2 from their 4-2-3-1. Both sides are likely to feature the exact same lineups with no new injury concerns or suspensions coming from leg one.
I hold by my prediction that the Sounders take the series 4-1. They'll get one late in the first as Dallas pushes and again one in the second as Dallas pours everything forward to find the missing goals. Remember, a tie or a win and the Rave Green go through. A 1-0 loss and we are out, a 2-1 loss and it is time for extra soccer and maybe PKs, a one goal loss when Seattle scores two or more goals they advance, any other loss by more than a goal and we are gone. The Sounders hold the statistic probability to advance and they looked like the better side, expect the Rave Green to be playing in an all-Cascadia MLS Western Conference Final, at least I do. Oh and to the Dallas fans that read this whole thing, thanks.