The Seattle Sounders think they were defensively solid in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal series with FC Dallas, and now they’ll return home for the second leg.
The Sounders say that’s an encouraging position. But they also know that Dallas is traveling to the Northwest with a key weapon it lacked in Texas: speedy midfielder Mauro Diaz, whose presence changes the very shape of the team’s attack.
“Diaz just means they shift into a 4-2-3-1, so it’s a little bit of a different formation,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “But we went down there early in the season and played against them with Diaz and came away with a win. He changes their team a little bit.”
That’s not necessarily a good thing when the status quo is working. And the Sounders believe their defense worked well in the 1-1 result they got last weekend in Dallas, when the only goal they surrendered came on a first-half penalty kick.
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Over the regular season, Diaz had three goals and three assists. However, he was ineligible for the first leg after drawing a red card in Dallas’ knockout-round win over Vancouver.
“They play different with Diaz,” Seattle defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso said. “I think last game they played with two wide midfielders. They are fast, but Monday they’re going to change. They’ll bring Diaz in the middle, so it’s going to be different. We have to play our game, be ready for battle. Advancing to the next round is our goal.”
The Sounders would do that with a win or a scoreless draw, because road goals are the first tie-breaker. A 1-1 draw would send the game to added time and perhaps a penalty kick shootout. Dallas would advance with a win or a draw of 2-2 or higher.
However, as Schmid notes, the addition of Diaz to the starting lineup also means the subtraction of someone else.
“Either they take away some size in (Tesho) Akindele or they take out some speed in (Andres) Escobar,” he said. “So it alters their team a little bit. The main thing with Diaz is he’s quick and slippery in the middle of midfield, and you don’t want him to get beyond your midfielders and then have an open field to look at because then he’s a good passer of the ball.”
After Saturday training at Starfire Sports Complex, Schmid said his team is very close to full health. “Gonzalo (Pineda) went through all of training, so we’ll see how he feels (Sunday),” he said. “(Lamar) Neagle went through all of training as well. And Andy Rose, as I said, it’s probably still too early for him, but he’s doing more all the time.” … The Sounders’ training included no special work on penalty kicks, even though the series could be settled by shootout. “We might do a few (Sunday), but no,” Schmid said. “We’ve got like three, four guys we feel pretty good about on PKs, and we have some other guys that we feel all right about. And we did a lot leading up to Open Cup and so forth, so we have a pretty good idea of who our top PK guys are. And sometimes it’s not so much practicing them, it’s making sure you send guys up there who are confident.”