Facing FC Dallas is an interesting test for the Seattle Sounders. Dallas won the Supporters’ Shield (17-8-9 +10 for 60 points) and the US Open Cup (beating New England). They could win MLS’ first ever treble, but there are issues for FCD. They lost Mauro Diaz for the rest of the season when they beat Seattle a couple weeks ago. The run-of-play offense is dry. On Sunday (6:30 PM, FS1) the Sounders host leg one of this two-leg aggregate goal series (away goals are the tie-breaker, if tied after leg two Dallas would host extra time). In less than a year these two teams will play a total of seven matches. The Toros and Sounders know each other well, but in some ways not at all due to recent injuries and coaching changes.
Seattle went 1-2-0 +2 against FCD in 2016. For your review here are our StoryStreams for the last five matches against Dallas.
Drew from Big D Soccer answers Three Questions.
SaH: Is the creative pressure all on Barrios now that Diaz is out?
BDS: No, Michael Barrios is just a cog in the attack that can pressure guys out wide with his pace. For me the creative pressure rests more on guys like Kellyn Acosta and Mauro Rosales. This really does depend on what kind of formation Oscar Pareja opts to go with in this series. If he sticks with a 4-2-3-1 like they had with Mauro Diaz on the field, then Rosales is the key guy in that picture for the creative spark with his service. But if he goes with a 4-4-2 like we saw last weekend in LA, then it comes down to someone like Acosta to move the ball a little more forward to Maxi Urruti and Tesho Akindele.
SaH: What learnings can Dallas take from that match just two weeks ago?
BDS: Looking back on all three games against Seattle this season make me feel like we need to throw them all out the door in some ways. The first meeting back in May was when Seattle wasn't at their best. The lone meeting in Seattle was a blowout as you all remember quite well I'm sure when Dallas played a reserve-heavy roster of homegrowns and rookies. The last meeting is the only one that stands out, though with Diaz being a key element in that game I do wonder how much either side can lean on that one.
That being said, I do think Seattle's approach in that last game was a good measuring stick as to what the Sounders can do to this Dallas attack, even without Diaz. Seattle pinned the Dallas fullbacks in their own defensive end more on that day by not allowing them to get into the attack as much as they'd like. I'm sure the more this is done on Sunday, the better chance they'll have at creating some chances of their own against the Dallas defense.
SaH: How will the away goals tie-breaker change Pareja's tactics in this two-leg series?
BDS: I think last Sunday's approach is exactly what we should expect on Sunday in this game. FCD was very pragmatic in their approach on the road and really over the last two months have done this to prepare for the playoffs (they haven't lost on the road since late August).
They'll sit back and withstand a lot of pressure from the opposing side while looking for those quick counter attacks in space. I would expect this to be a fairly ugly looking game as Dallas goes for a draw.
Chris Seitz, Maynor Figueroa, Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, Atiba Harris, Michael Barrios, Carlos Gruezo, Kellyn Acosta, Ryan Hollingshead, Tesho Akindele, Maxi Urruti
BDS: How does Seattle approach this series after a pretty rough Knockout Round game on Thursday night? Is there any concern about tired legs going into the first leg?
SaH: Coach Brian Schmetzer is not a fan of squad rotation for fitness reasons. Part of what has powered the Sounders through this run is consistency in lineups. The changes have been due to suspension or injury, even though several older players were probably not at 100% fitness. The only spot where Schmetzer could insert relatively equal talent is in the midfield where Brad Evans could start instead of either Erik Friberg or Alvaro Fernandez. Either change leads to a slightly stronger defense. That move also makes sense due to the away goals tie-breaker. What both sides learned last year is to not give up even a single away goal.
BDS: What does Seattle expect to take from the three games against Dallas this season? Do they focus more on what they learned in the previous meeting or do they dig deeper from those other two meetings?
SaH: The amount of change both sides went through over the season reduces the ability to use the earlier matches for scouting. On top of that Seattle under Schmetzer is not reactive. They look to play their style and force other teams to adjust. They will be pacey, apply intermittent high pressure, surge their central midfielders into the attack and be stout in the back generally allowing shots from distance. If there is a bit of focus from any of the previous games it will be a reminder of marking the undead, I mean Carlos Ruiz. Just as Wondo has caused them issues at times, Ruiz can float into space and punish them.
Rosales' service will be well known, which might reduce their fouling within 35 yards. Both teams have a lot of large bodies on set-pieces, but Dallas has had the better of those circumstances than the Sounders.
BDS: Who is the one x-factor for the Sounders in this series?
SaH: I'm going to cheat and pick someone that everyone knows, but who hasn't been on the score sheet for a while. If the Sounders are going to head to Frisco with a multi-goal lead they need the Nico that wowed MLS in his first two months here. Back then he netted 3 goals and earned all 8 assists he has on the year. Since then he's played five MLS games (1 of those last night) and only has a single goal, no assists and only nine shots. For the Sounders to make it to MLS Cup they need Lodeiro at his best. The little guys stepping up is neat, but this is one of the league's best players. It's time for him to expand on his status and become a legend.
Predicted lineup: Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Tyrone Mears; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Alvaro Fernandez, Nicolas Lodeiro, Brad Evans; Jordan Morris