There have been 62 two-legged, aggregate-goal series played in the history of the MLS Playoffs, including the four that are still ongoing. MLS started playing these series in 2003, when it was determined that a best-of-3 series was probably a bit of overkill — and also not particularly well attended.
In all that time, on just three occassions has a team headed into the second leg of the series holding a three-goal lead. As fate would have it, all three have included the Seattle Sounders.
The current series is, of course, one of them. The Sounders are leading FC Dallas 3-0, courtesy of an eight-minute stretch in Leg 1 in which Nelson Valdez scored once and Nicolas Lodeiro scored twice.
While a three-goal lead is a massive advantage — only 2 of the 13 teams that trailed by multiple goals going into Leg 2 ultimately advanced and no team has overcome a three-goal deficit — the Sounders have several players intimately familiar with what it’s like to be on the other end of such a big disadvantage. It was, after all, the Sounders who own the ignominy of being the other two teams to have lost the first leg in a playoff series by three goals.
The first time was in 2011, when the Sounders dropped a 3-0 result to Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference semifinals. Amazingly, the Sounders managed to repeat that deficit the following year when they fell behind the LA Galaxy in the Western Conference finals.
Both times, though, the Sounders were able to close to within a goal in the home leg. Against RSL, the Sounders got both of their goals in the first 16 minutes of the second half and looked destined to grab the third only to fall short. The second goal came even earlier against the Galaxy — with Zach Scott scoring a header in the 57th minute — but the team then gave up a penalty in the 68th minute that effectively sealed the result.
That they were able to come so close to recovering should serve as cautionary tales for the Sounders, who can’t afford to take anything for granted in Frisco.
“We have to go there with the mentality that it’s a 0-0 game,” said Osvaldo Alonso, one of five current Sounders who were on at least one of the 2011 or 2012 teams. “It’s going to be a battle. We’ve been in this situation on the other side and we always tried to push through. It will be a hard game for us.”
Having players like Alonso, who understand the desperation a team in Dallas’ situation will be playing with, can only help.
“For sure,” Cristian Roldan said. “We have a cushion at this point, but they have nothing to lose. They can go out there and play their game. They’re at home. They are going to throw guys forward and make it very difficult to play on the road. That’s a good team over there.”
Head coach Brian Schmetzer was also on the staff of those teams in 2011 and 2012, and to his credit he’s insisted the Sounders are going to Dallas not just to hold on but to win.
At the very least, he seems determined to prepare his players in a way to not to repeat the situation RSL found themselves in when they were basically just holding on for dear life during the final moments.
It’s also important to note that scoring at least one goal is more helpful than focusing solely on defense, as a Sounders away goal would force Dallas to score five in order to win.
“Everyone knows what we need to do to win the series,” another 2011 veteran, Erik Friberg, said after last week’s game. “We can’t just go there and defend. We have to go there and play like we did today.”