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Postgame Pontifications: Knowing how to win

The Sounders aren't necessarily winning over skeptics, they're just winning games.

Last Updated
3 min read
Emma Ottosen / Sounders FC Communications

SEATTLE – As the press was allowed into the locker room following the Seattle Sounders’ 1-0 win over FC Dallas on Friday, there was a distinct lack of buzz. If music was playing over the loudspeakers, it was quiet enough that it was little more than background noise.

The players who were still around, were casually getting ready. No one seemed to be in any particular rush, no one itching to get to a postgame party.

Frankly, it looked like the scene following any random regular-season win, as opposed one that put the Sounders through to the Western Conference semifinals.

It was, effectively, simply what was expected.

“Today was all about winning and advancing,” Sounders midfielder Albert Rusnák said after scoring his seventh game-winning goal of the season. “It took hard work and a lot of grit at the ending to push through and get to the next round, but that’s what playoffs are about.”

To be sure, qualifying for the Western Conference semifinals is a notable achievement. Only eight teams advance this far in any given season and the last time the Sounders did it was when they went all the way to MLS Cup in 2020. Of course, up until 2021, the Sounders had also never failed to advance at least this far.

Despite those recent hiccups, the Sounders are loaded with institutional knowledge of deep playoff runs. Among Friday's starters only Jackson Ragen and Léo Chú lacked playoff experience and Josh Atencio was the only other player who had never started a playoff game coming into this series. The other eight starters had 108 postseason starts among them, which isn't even counting experience in Concacaf Champions League.

The Sounders did not dominate FC Dallas in this series, but there was also a distinct lack of panic even when things didn't seem to be going their way. Game 1 was mostly professional, with the Sounders simply converting more of their chances. Game 2 didn't exactly go to plan, but the Sounders were still the better team for large swaths of it. Game 3 left little doubt, nervy final 5 minutes aside, as to which team was ready for the bright lights.

Dallas came into the game as prohibitive underdogs and their odds only got longer after it was revealed that Jesus Ferreira was out of the match. Almost from the opening whistle, the Sounders made sure to keep Dallas from getting any bright ideas about an upset.

The Sounders didn't so much dominate possession as much as they choked off Dallas' ability to get anywhere near the attacking zone. The Sounders frustrated Dallas with their pressing, and turned one particularly bad decision into the game's only goal. Rusnák's goal came at the conclusion of a 22-minute stretch in which Dallas didn't have a single touch within 20 yards of the Sounders' goal as Sebastien Ibeagha tried to force a line-breaking pass. Instead, João Paulo picked it off and immediately found Rusnák streaking to goal.

"We’re at our best when we win the ball and our first pass is forward," Rusnák said. "That’s what happened on the goal. That’s something we can build upon and take into the next game."

The Sounders will face a different kind of challenge against LAFC. Unlike Dallas, LAFC have both big-game experience and plenty of match-winners. LAFC are fully capable of overwhelming opponents in a way the Sounders are not.

But the Sounders have proven themselves resistant to such pressures. They have a defense that is once again showing itself to be elite and they have potential match-winners available off the bench. This is a team that seems to understand that it's not so much how you win, just that you do.