The Seattle Sounders faced down an old playoff demon Sunday in their 1-1 draw with FC Dallas.
In earlier seasons, when the Sounders have surrendered early road goals and they allowed them to be followed by a second, and then a third — holes that proved impossible to climb out of in the aggregate-scoring method of the playoffs.
Resolved to do better this time, Seattle once again fell a goal down in the series opener at Toyota Stadium.
But this time, the Sounders stopped the bleeding, holding Dallas to that lone goal until Osvaldo Alonso produced the equalizer in the 54th minute.
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“I thought we reacted very well,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think that’s the change in the maturity of the team. It’s taken awhile for us to get there. Generally when we’ve knocked ourselves out of the playoffs it’s been in the first game, and so that was something we talked about an awful lot. At halftime we said, ‘We’re OK, as long as we don’t give up another goal we’re OK.’ ”
The series will resolve at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at CenturyLink Field. The Sounders would advance with a win or a 0-0 draw, because away goals are the first tiebreaker. A 1-1 draw would send the game into extra time and then penalty kicks if needed. A draw of two or more goals each would give the series to Dallas on away goals.
“We talked about in Game 1 putting ourselves to win it in Game 2,” Schmid said. “I think we’ve always done a good job of being at home in the second game and winning the second game. So obviously coming back and scoring the goal (was important).”
Dallas dominated the early minutes. But Seattle seemed to be taking control of the middle portion of the first half when Marco Pappa left his feet and was whistled for a foul in the penalty area. Michel nailed the penalty kick.
That brought the Sounders to the situation they had hoped to avoid: balancing the desire for a tying goal against an urgency not to fall two goals down.
“I thought the team reacted well,” midfielder Brad Evans said. “I thought that we kept fighting. We had plenty of chances before the goal. … Then guys kept their head, which was awesome. And it wasn’t a pretty game, but you know what: Playoffs is playoffs and you go through rough patches in games and we fought through it.”
The equalizer began with Pappa free kick in front of the goalmouth where Alonzo headed it in.
“I feel very happy for the result, even more for scoring goals,” Alonso said. “Now I have to go home: I’m going to have a baby so it’s doubly happy for me.”
Still, the goal came with 35 minutes left to play. And those minutes were dominated by Dallas, which kept most of the play in its attacking end. They ended up putting five shots on target, but only the PK got past Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who was appearing in his first playoff game after six seasons in the league.
“I thought Frei was very good tonight,” Schmid said. “He makes that save in whatever that was: the 88th, maybe 89th minute, where it’s going maybe top corner. But beyond that he collected maybe five, six free kicks that he collected in the air. When a goalkeeper does that, that just makes it a lot easier on the defenders.”
That final save came on a shot Fabian Castillo.
“I was just trying to stay balanced and ready to explode, and that’s what I was able to do,” Frei said. “I was lucky to be able to get a good reaction out of it and make the save.”
Dallas played without midfielder Mauro Diaz, who missed the game because of disciplinary suspension but will be eligible for the final leg.
Seattle played without midfielder Gonzalo Pineda, who missed the game with an undisclosed injury. However, Schmid said “the prospects are good” that he will be ready for the resolution game.