Sounders FC

Sounders-FC Dallas semifinal a battle of the ages

When the Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas resolve their Western Conference semifinal series on Sunday, it will not only be a battle of teams, but of generations.

When the clubs opened the series last weekend in Seattle, the Sounders fielded a lineup averaging 29 years of age. The average age for Dallas’ starters was 24.

“I think you can see it two ways,” Dallas midfielder Victor Ulloa, 24, said in a phone interview. “Some people say that we lack the experience, we’re a young team. But on the other side, we feel good about it. We have a young team, and I think we’re a very good fit. We can run all day, and in a long season I think that’s important.”

Seattle coach Sigi Schmid acknowledges that the Hoops are young and fast. But he doesn’t believe his players can’t keep up.

“Soccer in the old days, when you were 32 you were considered an old man,” he said. “And then a few guys way back when played into their late 30s or early 40s. Now you’ve got guys doing it all the time. You’ve got guys like (Montreal’s 37-year-old) Didier Drogba that can still make meaningful contributions.”

Schmid says players are aging more gracefully because they take care of themselves better and there are better facilities and fields.

“Is 28 still the prime, or is the prime 31-32 now?” he said. “I couldn’t tell you. It’s probably somewhere in there.”

There was no indication that the Sounders were gasping for breath in the first leg, when they answered Dallas’ first-half goal with two second-half goals. That result will carry over into the resolution match at 4:30 p.m. Sunday in Frisco, Texas.

Schmid believes his team may be receiving a belated benefit from the injuries and other absences that were so frustrating until now: It reduced the wear and tear of the 34-game regular season.

For several key Sounders, the number of games played was lower than their ages: Clint Dempsey, 32, played 20 games; Obafemi Martins, 31, played 20; Brad Evans, 30, played 28; Leo Gonzalez, 34, played 16; Marco Pappa, 27, played 20; Osvaldo Alonso, 29, played 22; Chad Marshall, 31, played 29.

Meanwhile, the Hoops believe they compensate for their relative youth with more familiarity and unity than might be expected. Though young, several have played together for many years.

Ulloa is one of seven players on the first-team roster that came up through the club’s academy system, and he’s one of two homegrowns who started the first leg, along with 20-year-old goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez. Over the season, Dallas’ homegrown players accounted for a league-high 6,733 minutes played.

“I think the most important thing is we love each other, we grew up together, we’re young and we know that the ownership and the coaches believe in young guys, and that’s an advantage,” Ulloa said. “I think it’s been part of our success.”

ADDED TIME

Martins and Pappa have been called to duty next week with the Nigerian and Guatemalan national teams, respectively. The calls should not affect their availability with the club, as the MLS playoffs pause next week due to the international window. Meanwhile, neither Dempsey nor Evans were on the 23-man roster called up by U.S. national coach Jurgen Klinsmann. … Just before the Sounders flew to Texas on Friday, Schmid was asked whether Alonso (groin), Evans (hamstring) and Gonzalez (adductor) would be making the trip. “They’re making progress,” he said. ... The Philadelphia Union won the MLS fair play team award announced Friday, edging out the runner-up Sounders. Portland midfielder Darlington Nagbe took the individual award.

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