Jennifer Buchanan/Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Spor
Everything that can be going right for the Seattle Sounders is in the playoffs so far and, after a dominant pummeling over the No. 1-seed FC Dallas, the Sounders look like the new Western Conference favorites.
The Sounders smacked Dallas, 3-0, on Sunday night and they did with a complete team performance. They simply dominated FC Dallas up and down the field.
It's certainly not by accident – interim coach Brian Schmetzer has been getting everything right and continues to prove he should be named the permanent head coach. Since Schmetzer took over, Nelson Valdez has suddenly found his form, the connection between Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro is only getting better, and Stefan Frei is making monster saves.
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On Sunday, Schmetzer put Morris on the left wing, seeming to sense that Valdez was finally breaking out after spending the entire regular season scoreless. Schmetzer started Valdez up top as the target striker and it was a stroke of brilliance from the interim manager, whose players executed their roles perfectly.
The goal Morris scored in his role as a winger was the highlight of Sounders' performance. Look at how he races up the flanks, cuts inside, and fires a perfectly weighted ball for Lodeiro to finish.
But Valdez's role in starting off the scoring was crucial and it continued a surprise run of form from the Paraguayan. He has scored zero goals throughout the regular season – yes, he is a forward and he is paid $1.2 million to score goals. But in two playoffs games, Valdez suddenly has two goals:
FC Dallas were supposed to be the favorites but they were handed a severe blow with the injury to playmaker Mauro Diaz. They came out in a 3-5-2 and tried to make up for the lack of the No. 10 by countering quickly on the flanks, but the attack struggled and the team looked like a shell of what it had been all year. The Sounders, anticipating that Dallas would need to abandon their favored 4-2-3-1, worked to shut down the wide channels. Morris as a winger also did his share of tracking back to help keep Dallas from attacking along the flanks.
Now, with the Sounders topping the best team of the regular season in playoffs, they have shot ahead in the race for Western Conference favorites.
The Sounders were tested defensively, but did well, even as injured Roman Torres has been sidelined. One of the best centerback pairings in MLS between Chad Marshall and Torres was broken up, but Zach Scott filled in well. Dallas were mostly pushed to try to shoot from low percentage areas and had few quality chances. Frei also made a couple key saves, like this one:
Everything is coming together for the Sounders at the perfect time. And it just continues their impressive turnaround from last-place in the Western Conference in July to a serious MLS Cup contender. There is more work to be done next week in Leg 2 in Dallas, but the Sounders look poised to get the job done. And much, much more.