For the fifth time in seven seasons, the Seattle Sounders will face off against FC Dallas in the MLS playoffs. The roles they’ll be filling are familiar: the veteran Sounders against upstart FC Dallas. Here’s what I’m hoping to see:
Get the first goal
The Sounders were among the league’s best teams this year when scoring first (they’re now 11-0-1) and have historically been nearly unbeatable in the playoffs when they do that (they’re 17-1-0), so doing that again would probably be smart for the most obvious reasons. But there’s an added benefit to that now, especially when facing a FC Dallas opponent who’s and potentially in their own head about this matchup. This is the fifth time since 2014 that these two teams have faced off in the playoffs and FC Dallas has only gotten the better of the matchup once, back in 2015 when they won in a penalty shootout. Dallas has perpetually been the up-and-coming team and the Sounders have often been the ones blocking them. If the Sounders can jump out early, maybe the tune of “here we go again” starts playing.
Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that home-field advantage is diminished without fans in the stands, but there’s still something to it. The Sounders are now riding a MLS record 13-game home winning streak in the playoffs and have tied a post-shootout era record with six straight playoff wins overall, with five of those games being played in Seattle. Dallas, for their part, went just 1-5-3 on the road during the regular season (although they did just win in Portland).
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves
Tempting as it is to see the field opening up a bit with the Eastern Conference bracket being almost entirely blown up, the Sounders still have plenty of work to do before even thinking about possibly hosting a second straight MLS Cup final. Getting past FC Dallas is no cakewalk, especially when you consider they’re coming off an emotional win and loaded with youngsters who don’t know any better.
Ride the hot hands
Sure, that means getting the ball to Raúl Ruidíaz, Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris, but that’s almost a given at this point. In this case, I’m talking about the rest of the lineup. Kelvin Leerdam is back in training and might be fit enough to start. There’s maybe even a chance that Xavier Arreaga will be cleared to play. I’m inclined to just roll with the same lineup that looked so good against LAFC. Alex Roldan was a near revelation and Shane O’Neill was perfectly solid, but more importantly has trained more than a once or twice with the Sounders over the past few weeks. When everyone is fully fit and rested, there’s more of a debate, but for now let’s ride the hot hand.
Punish the wings
Against the Portland Timbers, FC Dallas went two relatively young players as fullbacks: 22-year-old John Nelson on the left and 19-year-old Bryan Reynolds on the right. Both are exceptionally talented — Reynolds is even drawing interest from Juventus — but neither are exactly shutdown defenders. Jordan Morris has torn apart some of the best defenders in the league, and this matchup seems ripe for him to potentially enjoy a similar level of success as he had in last year’s playoff meeting when he had a hat trick.