MLS Playoffs
FC DallasDAL

Seattle Sounders FC 3, FC Dallas 0 | 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs Match Recap

Major League's top regular-season team is on the ropes just 90 minutes into their their Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs campaign.

Spearheaded by a Nicolas Lodeiro double, Nelson Valdez's latest clutch goal and another all-around performance from Jordan Morris, the Seattle Sounders ambushed FC Dallas at CenturyLink Field on Sunday. Reeling off three goals in eight frantic second-half minutes, the hosts snared a 3-0 win in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal series that puts the Supporters' Shield and US Open Cup winners with a mountain to climb in next Sunday's second and decisive leg at Toyota Stadium.

FCD boss Oscar Pareja fielded a new, highly defensive formation – officially termed a 5-3-2 – with three defensive midfielders and Ryan Hollingshead and Atiba Harris playing as wingbacks. The tactical wrinkle got the Texans into halftime unscathed, but backfired on balance and will likely be a talking point in the week ahead.

With Dallas showing every intent to sit in, Seattle threatened on several occasions in the first half. In the opening minutes Valdez tried to finish Morris' driven cross with his chest, only for Chris Seitz to scramble to his left and paw the ball away from the goal line.

Later Matt Hedges would have to make two goal-line clearances behind a prone Seitz, the first caroming off his teammate Victor Ulloa's arm from close range to prompt Seattle handball shouts that went ignored by referee Ricardo Salazar. Then Seitz came up big to deny Morris as he cut inside from the left and uncorked a blast towards the near post.

But a cagey affair truly blew wide open five minutes after the break. FCD were clearly eager to pin back Sounders left back Joevin Jones, but the Trinidadian broke clear to serve in a driven cross from the flank that Seitz misread, allowing Valdez to lean across Maynor Figueroa and nod it home for a 1-0 Seattle lead.

The advantage was doubled just four minutes later when Seattle caught the visitors in transition. Morris raced down the left channel, beat Hedges and slipped a superb left-footed centering pass into Lodeiro's path for a simple tap-in at the far post.

It went from bad to worse for Dallas in the 58th minute as Lodeiro struck again for the Sounders' third. The Uruguayan did most of the hard work himself on this one, taking Jones' long pass down the left wing and racing through a scattered and disorganized FCD back line before slotting underneath an exposed Seitz for a 3-0 lead, pushing the West's No.1 seed to the brink of elimination before the series was half over.

Pareja brought Tesho Akindele, Mauro Rosales and Carlos Ruiz off the bench and rejiggered his formation, but nothing worked for Dallas and they now must score at least three times at home in order to keep their MLS Cup hopes alive.

Box Score

  • 50' – SEA –  Nelson Valdez (Joevin Jones)
  • 55' – SEA –  Nicolas Lodeiro (Jordan Morris)
  • 58' – SEA –  Nicolas Lodeiro (Joevin Jones)
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Three Things

  1. MELTDOWN ON THE SOUND: Everyone knew FCD would be a different proposition in the playoffs without maestro Mauro Diaz. But surely no one expected Pareja to unveil the new significantly altered formation seen here, with different roles for several key players from their usual 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 looks. It was probably intended to make the bunkering process easier, and perhaps it was undermined by poor individual outings, but Dallas' lauded boss may have overthought this one. 
  2. VALDEZ DOES IT AGAIN: Given his limited production (one goal and two assists in 31 regular-season games since his arrival in August 2015, none of them this season) and reportedly high salary numbers, it's hard to rate Valdez as a successful Designated Player signing...except for the fact that he keeps scoring big playoff goals. The strapping Paraguayan now has three postseason strikes, including the winner in the Knockout Round vs. Sporting KC on Thursday and Sunday's influential opener. 
  3. NUMBERS DON'T LIE...RIGHT? Many Sounders had big performances, and many FCD mainstays failed to produce their best. Morris was extremely efficient on the ball, Lodeiro was as active and opportunistic as he's been in a Seattle uniform to date and Osvaldo Alonso was just about impeccable at the base of midfield, with a passing map and completion rate that rangs among the best MLS has ever seen.
    If Dallas are to get off the mat in the second leg, it'll take a truly historic rally:
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