Even after an MLS playoff victory a few days earlier, Seattle Sounders interim coach Brian Schmetzer knew the team’s attack had to be more crisp.
It had to show more firepower, especially with Western Conference top seed FC Dallas coming to town for the first game in a two-leg conference semifinal.
“We talked about … trying to play better soccer, and how do we play better soccer,” Schmetzer said.
Whether it was the discussion, or the lineup tinkering, the Sounders displayed one of their best scoring stretches in a big match in franchise history Sunday night.
Tallying three second-half goals in an eight-minute span, the Sounders blew out FC Dallas, 3-0, in front of 37,073 at CenturyLink Field.
Again, the star was Nelson Valdez, who got his first start at forward in two months. He scored the game-winner just after halftime.
And Nicolas Lodeiro followed with his first two MLS playoff goals since joining the squad in July.
The playoff series concludes next Sunday in Frisco, Texas.
“We are not finished,” Schmetzer said. “That message will be repeated throughout the week, because Dallas is a very dangerous team.”
What got it all started in the second half was a revisit of the same scoring combination from the Sounders’ 1-0 victory Thursday over Sporting Kansas City — Joevin Jones to Valdez.
Shaking up the lineup, Schmetzer gave the knockout-round hero his first start since Aug. 24 at Houston.
“I felt he was on a high, scoring the winning goal against Kansas City,” Schmetzer said.
Valdez made it pay off.
Charging down the left sideline, Jones sent a cross in. Valdez beat FC Dallas defender Maynor Figueroa to the spot, and the Paraguayan sent a header past goalkeeper Chris Seitz in the 50th minute.
“The first goal took us by surprise,” FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja said. “We had the game controlled. We did not expect for the game to be in the balance on that play.”
It was Valdez’s third career MLS playoff goal for the Sounders, tying him with Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson for the most in franchise history.
“I am thankful … for a coach with trust in me,” Valdez said. “The only way I could answer that trust was to score more goals, and continue to play the way I did tonight.”
The onslaught continued after that at a rapid pace.
Rookie Jordan Morris, whom Valdez replaced up top, got loose down a left-center seam. While going full steam approaching the penalty box, Morris slowed just enough to send a soft cross over to a streaking Lodeiro, who tapped it in for a 2-0 Sounders lead in the 55th minute.
Lodeiro wasn’t finished.
Three minutes later, the Uruguayan star broke away from a pack of FC Dallas players, and essentially had a one-on-one situation against Seitz.
It was no contest — Lodeiro hesitated enough to get Seitz to commit to a spot, and he then rifled a low liner into the right side of the goal for a 3-0 Seattle advantage.
Lodeiro posted his first multiple-goal match since June 1, 2013, when he was a member of the Brazilian club Botafogo. He had two goals in a 2-1 victory over Cruzeiro.
“In the second half, our team made the necessary adjustments, but they also made the necessary plays,” Schmetzer said. “We are talking about making plays. When you try and win an MLS Cup, you have to make plays.”
The result appears to be an ominous sign for the conference’s top team, which ended the Sounders’ season at this juncture in 2015.
FC Dallas is without star midfielder Mauro Diaz, who is out for the season with a torn Achilles. Without him, Dallas mustered little attack Sunday.
And if you are wondering how difficult it is to overcome a 3-0 deficit at the midway point of a two-leg playoff series, ask the Sounders themselves. They know.
In both instances — to Real Salt Lake in 2011 in the conference semifinals, and to the Los Angeles Galaxy in the conference finals in 2012 — they were eliminated from the postseason after the second match.
“We overcame a difficult result last year when we left this field,” Pareja said. “We will try and do the same. This team has shown throughout the year that we can overcome difficult situations. Why not this one as well?”