If the Seattle Sounders FC needs a cautionary tale before the deciding game of its Western Conference semifinal series, D.C. United provided one over the weekend.
D.C.’s stirring worst-to-first tale came to a distinctly nonstorybook ending on its home pitch Saturday when it was eliminated from the Eastern Conference semifinals by aggregate score against the fourth-seeded New York Red Bulls.
The Sounders face similar stakes at 7:30 p.m. Monday when fourth-seeded FC Dallas visits CenturyLink Field. The first leg in Texas ended with a 1-1 draw, meaning that the second leg will determine who goes on to the Western Conference final and whose season will end a month before the ultimate goal of the MLS Cup.
“I think you’ve got to be realistic and think that in a worst-case scenario, you could definitely leave a trophy on the table, which we don’t want to do,” veteran Zach Scott said. “But at the same time, we’ve set ourselves up this year by a lot of hard work to get to the chances we still have to do something exceptionally special. There’s that much more motivation.
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“You don’t want to throw away all the games that you grinded out, all the training sessions and have one bad performance and be stewing on it the entire offseason.”
When facing true must-win situations this season, the Sounders have succeeded. They did that in September when they faced the Philadelphia Union on the road and took the U.S. Open Cup with a 3-1 victory. They did it in October when they stared down the Los Angeles Galaxy in back-to-back season-ending matches to claim the Supporters’ Shield, following up on a 2-2 draw with a 2-0 win.
Now the Sounders are one step down their playoff road, which they hope leads to the club’s first MLS Cup and a trophy treble unprecedented in league history.
A straight win by either team sends the winner on to the next round, while the loser’s season abruptly ends. But because road goals are the first tie-breaker, not all draws have the same result.
“We know and Dallas knows that they’ve got to score in order to have any chance of doing anything,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “So that maybe puts a little more pressure on them, maybe means that the game is a little more open for us to attack them because they’ve got to take some risks at times going forward.
“But I’ve been happy with how we’ve defended. Defenses win championships, and we’ve got to continue to defend well.”
Dallas needs to score because the Sounders got a road goal in the opener. Therefore, if the Sounders keep a clean sheet, they will advance whether it’s in victory or a scoreless draw. The flip side is that a draw of 2-2 or more would eliminate the Sounders. Another 1-1 draw would send the match into 30 minutes of added time, followed by a penalty kick shootout if necessary.
During the regular season, the Sounders and Hoops were the second- and third-highest-scoring teams in MLS, so nil-nil seems unlikely, especially with Dallas needing to push forward. The teams combined for a dozen goals in three regular-season meetings — 3-2 and 2-1 Seattle victories and a 3-1 win by Dallas.
“We want to try and get the win here,” central defender Chad Marshall said. “I don’t think anyone is playing for a zero tie. We have to come out here and play our game. I think we’ll do that.”
The Sounders should be very close to full strength with only reserve midfielder, Andy Rose, known to be unavailable.
A sellout crowd of around 38,500 will be on hand.
“We know what we want to get, and what we want to get doesn’t end (Monday),” Schmid said. “So we’ve got to continue to go after it, we’ve got to believe, and we can only do very difficult tasks if you believe in it. We feel solidly this is our time, but it doesn’t happen unless we go out on the field and put in the work and the effort and the concentration and the desire, and our guys are ready to do that.”