Sounders FC

Sounders weigh top aggregate tactics

Aggressiveness has paid off better than caution for the Seattle Sounders over the last couple of weeks.

Two weeks ago, the Sounders came out intent on absorbing pressure and countering it, and emerged with only a 1-1 draw at Houston.

They’ve come out on the front foot since, and raced away with a pair of wins, scoring six goals while surrendering three.

On Sunday, coach Sigi Schmid seeks to balance the benefits and dangers of the two approaches as his team begins its Western Conference semifinal series against top-seeded FC Dallas at CenturyLink Field.

It’s a home-and-away, aggregate-score series, with away goals serving as the tiebreaker.

Schmid noted that the sure formula in such a series is to win at home and draw on the road. But Schmid and his team know there is danger in giving away road goals while pushing for that home win.

Last season, road goals put Seattle through in the conference semifinals against Dallas before road goals eliminated them in the conference finals against eventual MLS Cup champion Los Angeles.

“You’ve got to find that balance between our attacking play and making sure that we’re secure defensively — especially because they’re a team that likes to counter,” Schmid said. “… We have to be careful about that. But on the same token, I think we’ve come out the last two games and played with good aggression at the beginning. I know we took a couple of goals against L.A., but offensively we were good about going after it, and I think we’ve got to do that again.”

Dallas earned the top seed in the West by accumulating a league-high 60 points — although the New York Red Bulls took the Supporters’ Shield on goal differential.

“They’re probably a little bit bitter from doing so well this year and not winning the Supporters’ Shield,” Seattle veteran Chad Barrett said. “So they definitely want to come out flying. They’ve got fresh legs. It’s going to be really hard fought.”

While Dallas didn’t get a shield, it did earn advantages as the top seed in the West. One is playing the decisive second game on its home pitch, knowing exactly what is needed in terms of result and road goals.

Perhaps more importantly, the Hoops got the advantage of a week off while the Sounders were working their way to a 3-2 play-in victory over Los Angeles on Wednesday. That sends Dallas into CenturyLink Field with legs that are not only younger, but fresher — something else for Schmid to consider when weighing the best tactical approach for the opener.

“For sure, playing three games in a week makes it harder,” Schmid said. “But on the same token, sometimes there are blessings in disguise, so maybe some of the games (our key players) missed earlier means that they’re overall maybe a little fresher at this point in the year. We’ve got to take all that into account.”

Schmid didn’t sound optimistic about the availability of several key players dealing with injury issues: defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, central defender Brad Evans and left back Leo Gonzalez.

However, the Sounders could be closer to full strength than they were in either of the regular-season meetings with Dallas. Designated player/forwards Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins were both out in March when the teams played to a scoreless draw in Texas. And Martins played just 29 minutes in the Sounders’ 3-0 win in June at CenturyLink Field. Midseason additions, including Nelson Valdez, Andreas Ivanschitz and Erik Friberg, hadn’t yet arrived in Seattle for those games.

“(The playoffs) are the most important part of the season,” said Ivanschitz, who never experienced them in the leagues of Europe. “… We’re looking from game to game. There is now very nice momentum for us.”

SOUNDERS GAMEDAY

SEATTLE SOUNDERS (15-13-6; 51 POINTS)

VS. FC DALLAS (18-10-6; 60 POINTS)

6:30 p.m. Sunday, CenturyLink Field.

TV: FS1. Radio: 97.3 FM.

Head to head: Seattle leads the all-time, regular-season series 9-3-5, and is 6-1-1 at home. This season, the teams played to a scoreless draw March 28 in Texas — the only game in MLS history in which neither team put a shot on target. The Sounders won 3-0 on June 13 at CenturyLink. Seattle eliminated Dallas from the 2015 semifinals on the away-goals tiebreaker.

Notes: Dallas won the Western Conference and automatically advanced to the semifinal round. Seattle finished fifth and advanced with a 3-2 win over Los Angeles in the knockout round Wednesday. … Dallas enters the postseason with a three-game winning streak and a five-game unbeaten run. Seattle has won two straight and is unbeaten over its last nine. … Dallas went 5-8-4 on the road this season, but 1-0-1 away in October. … Obafemi Martins leads Seattle with 15 goals, and Clint Dempsey has 10 assists. Fabian Castillo leads Dallas with nine goals, and Mauro Diaz has 10 assists. Goalkeeper Stefan Frei has a 1.06 goals-against average for Seattle, while Jesse Gonzalez has a 0.91 GAA in 11 games for Dallas. … Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (groin) and defenders Brad Evans (hamstring) and Leo Gonzalez (undisclosed) are doubtful. … Frei received a yellow card in the knockout game. If he gets another Sunday, he will be ineligible for the second leg. … The referee is Kevin Stott.

Quote: “They’re a team that likes to play on the counterattack. They’ve got very fast wingers. The game runs through Mauro Diaz. They like their set pieces, because they still have some big bodies there. …They don’t mind absorbing pressure and getting in there on the counter.”

Seattle coach Sigi Schmid on Dallas.

Next: The series concludes Nov. 8 in Frisco, Texas.

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com

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