So it’s Dallas. The twice-crowned Seattle Sounders fly to Frisco this weekend to continue their rendezvous with destiny.
On Wednesday night Dallas coach Oscar Pareja’s team (what is the right verb phrase here? not exactly defeated, maybe slipped by, or advanced past?) “recorded a win” over the Vancouver Whitecaps. Lots of proverbial ink has already been spilled on this topic, but WOW did Mark Geiger really screw up. That was a clear ball-to-hand on an awkward play and yet Geiger called a late penalty to gift the game for Dallas. Stats are sticky, but Vancouver had more shots (10-8) and more on target (4-2) than Dallas. This doesn’t mean they deserved to win, but a team’s entire season shouldn’t end on such a ticky-tacky call. But the game is logged, recorded and in the books, and it’s Dallas that earned the chance to fight the champ.
Before Wednesday’s game, and Geiger’s buffoonery, I wanted Dallas to win. I feel we match up better with them. Sure FCD is the better team, but Vancouver scares the day lights out of me. They have just had anti-Sounders juju for a while now. But watching Dallas play with a healthy Mauro Diaz is a little disturbing.
Remember earlier this season when FCD was on a tear? They were 5-1-1 and led the league in scoring before Diaz got hurt in late April. Their only loss in that stretch was to us in our stirring 3-2 comeback. But Dallas with Diaz is very different and much more dangerous than the team that went 7-12-4 without him in the lineup or only playing minimal minutes. Diaz’s presence, and how Pareja shuffles his lineup around him, will greatly affect the series.
Pareja is a meddler. He loves to get creative in the playoffs. He overthinks things, which, honestly, I am looking forward to. However with Diaz’s return to full fitness, Pareja fiddled with his lineup and produced a dangerous eleven against the Caps. Instead of the flat 4-4-2 with the pacey Gavin Escobar and Fabian Castillo on the flanks, he started a 4-2-3-1 with Blas Perez at the point backed up by a dangerous trio of Tesho Akindele, Diaz, and Castillo. This allowed him to sub Escobar on late to pester with pace, but also left Sounders-killer David Texeira on the pine. We don’t know what Pareja will cook up for this weekend, but hopefully he gets a little crazy. If he stirs the pot too much and puts players in unfamiliar positions, great. Sometimes a series ends before it even begins with overwrought coaching (Shalrie Joseph at forward anyone?). Pareja may be Seattle’s secret weapon in this matchup.
The lone bright spot late last season was beating Pareja’s Colorado Rapids in the play-in game. Including that one-off, Seattle has only won two playoff series in its decorated MLS history and the pressure is entirely on them. But the Sounders have been purging those ghosts in their head all season. I expect nothing less than a mass exorcism this weekend.
Happy Halloween Sounders fans.