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Scouting Report: Steering Toward the Playoffs

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A win against the Toros, the top team in the West, is much needed for many reasons.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

What You’ll Watch

The Seattle Sounders will look to win their fifth straight match and extend their unbeaten streak to eight games as they host FC Dallas this Sunday. This is the second and final regular season meeting between the two. Earlier this season, FC Dallas won 3-0 against a 10-man Sounders team.

FC Dallas currently sit at the top of the Western Conference standings with a record of 12-4-6 (42 points in 22 games played; 1.91 ppg) and the Sounders sit in eighth place with a record of 8-9-5 (29 points in 22 games played; 1.32 ppg). Last time out, the Sounders pulled another rabbit out of the hat with their second half stoppage time comeback to defeat Minnesota United 2-1. For Dallas, they lost to the worst team in the league, the San Jose Earthquakes, 3-1 at home last Saturday.

Could Dallas be beginning their now annual summer slump to fall from the top of the standings? We sure hope so. The Sounders have won eight of the 10 league meetings with Dallas at CenturyLink Field, including seven consecutive wins. They have allowed just one goal in their last five home meetings. This will be the 24th all-time regular season meeting between the two teams, Seattle is 11-6-6 with 39 goals scored and 25 conceded. Seattle is 8-1-1 at home with 27 goals scored and just seven conceded.

With a win, and a Vancouver loss/tie, the Sounders could jump to seventh place and be within striking distance of Real Salt Lake for the sixth and final playoff spot with 11 games to go after Sunday.

A Look at the Enemy

Last Five: L-W-T-W-L with eight goals scored and nine conceded

Leading Goal Scorer: Roland Lamah, eight goals (one away)

Assist Leader: Mauro Diaz, nine (no longer with the team)

Injury Report, Suspensions and International Duty

Dallas

Out: Santiago Mosquera (left hamstring strain)

Questionable: N/A

Suspensions: N/A

International Duty: N/A

Seattle

Out: Jordan Morris (torn ACL)

Questionable: Victor Rodriguez (right hamstring strain), Handwalla Bwana (right midfoot sprain) and Clint Dempsey (low back pain)

Suspensions: N/A

International Duty: N/A

Match Officials

REFEREE: Ted Unkel

AR1: Kyle Atkins

AR2: Jose Da Silva

4th: Jon Freemon

VAR: Edvin Jurisevic

What to Watch

A post-transfer FC Dallas has a lot of questions to answer about who they are now. The exit of Mauro Diaz (though, to be fair, the team is quite familiar with playing without him as a result of his recent injury history) and Cristian Roldan-wannabe Kellyn Acosta (who, to be fair, had more or less been benched by Oscar Pareja) leaves some seemingly big holes. Dallas may be at the top of the Western Conference standings, but they’re decidedly middle of the road statistically; losing your most creative force and one of your most talented midfielders isn’t usually a recipe for maintaining that overachieving pace, but so far they’re trucking right along and looking little worse for it.

In our first look at the fair Toros at the beginning of the year we noted that the defense was a bit of a question mark as a result of all the new faces. It has settled into a serviceable, if unimpressive, back line. There’s talent, but there’s also still regular miscommunication and poor connection between players. On the road they defend significantly deeper, allowing about 7% more shots from inside the penalty box than at home (57% vs 50%) and are spending about 5% more time in their defensive third. That said — and also in spite of goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez’s iffy work between the posts — they’re also one of the best road defenses in the league, having conceded just 14 goals away, third-best in the league.

They’re the third-worst possession team in the league away from home (just 45%), which leaves them often on the back foot. Their intent on the road seems to be to defend, defend, defend, and hope for some sort of a counterattacking goal. Pareja unabashedly packs it in, leaving the offense lightly strangled and stretched too thin to mount an attack of any extended time when they do get it. Maxi Urruti seems to have taken the mantle of creator until the more permanent solution arrives, but he’s not one to connect teammates or see passes in the same way. It hasn’t hurt their ability to get off shots, and they’re happy to spread them out across the field to whatever side or angle the opposition gives.

They’re also happy to see teams push up at them. This offers the opportunity for the front four to attack at pace, a thing all of them do well with and without the ball at their feet. They’ll use width in their supporting runs to open lanes, trusting that the one in possession is good enough with the ball to dribble past a defender or two. The point of their 4-2-3-1 formation is typically Michael Barrios, a small forward more in the vein of Raul Ruidiaz than Will Bruin in terms of style (definitely not in quality), but who also is quite serviceable as a holdup man. He probably isn’t going to stand up to Chad Marshall and Kim Kee-Hee for long, but he usually doesn’t need to wait very long for someone to pop up to pass off to.

This is a big week and a big test, really for both sides. This is the sort of offense that can give the Sounders trouble if they aren’t careful, and the sort of defense that has given them fits for years. Sunday’s performance will be a strong sign of the legitimacy of this year’s late-season recovery. A win is much needed for many reasons.

Quick Keys

  • Stay wary - in spite of their middle of the road statistics, Dallas is in first place for a reason (and that reason isn’t 2018 Mariners-like absurdist luck). It won’t be too hard to get sucked up too high and exposed behind, where the lack of defensive speed on the Sounders’ part (particularly if Alonso starts) can easily be exposed.
  • Stay active - it’s been a recurring problem that when a team bunkers in, Seattle shuts down and falls into repetitive looping patterns that end in what can optimistically be referred to as speculative crosses. This pattern doesn’t fit the team’s roster nearly as much now, and that’s probably a good thing. It’s been a while since the team has faced a true bunker; this will be an interesting test of the new-look offense.
  • Stay confident - this isn’t the early season, where the team will be easily out-talented on the field. Dallas may be at the top, but they aren’t invincible — they lost to San Jose, after all. The team is capable, by all accounts from practice spirits are high, and there’s every reason to expect a good result. Believe, achieve.

How to Watch

Date/Time: Sunday, August 12 @ 7:00 PM

Location: CenturyLink Field — Seattle, Washington

TV: FOX Sports 1

Streaming: YouTube TV

Radio: 950 KJR AM (English), El Rey 1360AM (Spanish)