FC Dallas-Sounders Preview
FC Dallas won the Western Conference and missed out on the Supporters' Shield on goal differential, though its conference semifinal matchup is hardly a fitting reward.
One of the more explosive teams in MLS begins its title chase Sunday night in Seattle against a Sounders side that's already eliminated last year's champion and has held Dallas scoreless for 326 consecutive minutes dating to last year's postseason.
"In a year full of challenges, that's (just) one more," coach Oscar Pareja told the club's official website. "The experience keeps telling you that you have to be prepared for many things that are not perfect, so we have to adapt to it. We have already played against these guys multiple times already, so it is nothing new."
Dallas dropped just two points on a regular season-closing five-match unbeaten streak, and last Sunday's 2-1 home win over San Jose was its third straight victory.
It fell behind in the 13th minute, but Mauro Diaz evened the match in the 38th and Victor Ulloa scored the winner in the 79th to secure the conference title. Diaz has three goals on the unbeaten streak, though they've all come at home.
Ulloa is less concerned with where Dallas is playing than how it's playing.
"We finished with the most points in franchise history and we're the No. 1 team in the West," Ulloa said. "We've been in playoff mode for the past few weeks. We've shown well and all those games were intense. We're ready. The momentum we have built will carry us through to the semifinals. We are ready to fight for the cup."
Dallas looks the part with a 9-2 scoring advantage on the unbeaten streak, including three shutouts, but it's what develops out of that defensive play that concerns Seattle with players such as Fabian Castillo.
"They're a team that likes to play on the counterattack, and they've got very fast wingers," Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. "They don't mind absorbing pressure and being able to get out on the counter."
The Sounders beat Dallas 3-0 in Seattle on June 13 for their third straight shutout in the series, though the previous two were scoreless draws. It's part of a 1-0-3 span in the series, with Dallas' last goal coming in the 34th minute of a 1-1 draw Nov. 2 - the first leg of last year's conference semi clash from which Seattle advanced on its away goal.
This year, fourth-seeded Seattle advanced out of the knockout round with Wednesday's 3-2 home win over Los Angeles. The Sounders blew two leads after Clint Dempsey scored in the fifth minute and Nelson Valdez again put them up in the 12th, but they held on after Erik Friberg's 73rd-minute strike.
After struggling for much of the summer, the Sounders are on a 6-0-4 run across all competitions with Dempsey scoring three times in consecutive victories.
"The toughest road lies ahead, but obviously (this) is a good feeling," said Brad Evans, whose status is uncertain for the first leg.
Evans could miss the match with a hamstring injury, while left back Leo Gonzalez also left the game. Midfielder Osvaldo Alonso's status is also in question after missing the Galaxy match with a groin problem.