First-leg deficit too much to overcome as Seattle Sounders eliminate Dallas
FRISCO, Texas -- Here are three thoughts from Seattle's 2-1 loss to FC Dallas on Sunday night, which put the Sounders through to the Western Conference final via a 4-2 aggregate scoreline.
1. Too little, too late
Because the second leg in Frisco was dictated so much by the big deficit FC Dallas dug themselves in the first leg, it's difficult to give head coach Oscar Pareja much credit for the improvement in his team for the last 90 minutes.
FC Dallas did apply pressure, and they did make the Sounders uncomfortable, but the effort came up short in the end. Pareja's changes for the home match came too late to save their season or keep alive their shot at three trophies in 2016.
It looked like the Shield winners might make the tie competitive when Tesho Akindele headed home an Atiba Harris cross in the 25th minute. FC Dallas were rewarded for an approach that attacked almost exclusively down the right side of their formation and rained in crosses. For a team that rarely crossed the ball in the regular season, using Harris (and to a lesser extent Michael Barrios) to put pressure on Stefan Frei and the Seattle defense was a departure that paid surprising dividends.
As the game went on, however, Seattle grew into the match, and FC Dallas lost their advantage in energy and pressure. A handful of missed chances, including an early one-on-one chance for the aforementioned Harris that Frei managed to save, set the tone for a level of desperation that Pareja's team couldn't overcome.
The answer for how to generate goals without Mauro Diaz never really came, with the two tallies FC Dallas managed in their losing effort on Sunday in part due to Seattle's big aggregate lead.
2. Missing the "D"
An attempt to slow the Sounders in Seattle -- involving five at the back and a trio of defensive midfielders -- ended poorly for FC Dallas. Although they went to a more comfortable 4-2-3-1 for the second leg down three goals, the defense was again an issue for the Texan side.
But some of the problem was tactical. Needing three goals, both of FC Dallas's fullbacks, Maynor Figueroa and Harris, pushed way up the field to provide numbers in the attack. Seattle's initial posture of sitting back and staying compact with their midfield and defensive lines did little to exploit the space left behind Figueroa and Harris.
Eventually, the Sounders began to open things up a bit more, giving the home side trouble with a measure of possession. Forced to respond, FC Dallas lost the attacking initiative they needed to maintain if they were going to overcome their deficit.
Seattle's pressure led to individual mistakes from FC Dallas, the thing that did in their chances of a comeback. Walker Zimmerman's giveaway to Tyrone Mears in the 52nd minute led directly to Nicolas Lodeiro's goal, a strike that not only put Seattle up 4-1 on aggregate but also gave the Sounders the tiebreaker. One poor decision by a defender who was otherwise excellent in 2016 resulted in a two-goal swing that effectively ended FC Dallas's season.
3. Injury concerns
If the series was ever in doubt for the Sounders, the danger was brief and put to rest by Lodeiro's finish early in the second half. That doesn't mean Seattle didn't spend the game fretting, especially when it comes to injuries as they head into the Western Conference final.
Rookie of the Year candidate and first-leg hero Jordan Morris left the game at halftime with what was described as a "thigh injury." It's quite possible that the forward was pulled off as a precaution with Seattle comfortably up 3-1 on aggregate, but considering the threat posed by FC Dallas, there's at least some doubt about the severity of the injury.
Given a choice, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer would surely want to have Morris in, until it was absolutely clear the result was not in jeopardy.
Nelson Valdez also left the game early after a scary moment when he crumpled to the ground holding his lower left leg without any contact from an opposing player. Valdez scored twice in the first leg against FC Dallas and again looked dangerous on Sunday. Although the Paraguayan DP failed to contribute a single tally in the regular season, his quality was shining through in the playoffs, just when the Sounders needed it.
Morris is part of the USMNT's roster for World Cup qualifiers in the coming international break. His status should be clear based on how Jurgen Klinsmann responds. Valdez will get two full weeks to recover from his injury, if it's one he can indeed recover from.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.