Tonight the Seattle Sounders play FC Dallas for the chance to win only their second playoff series ever and advance to the Western Conference Finals while keeping their Treble dreams alive.
Though Seattle now knows who waits on the other side, an all of a sudden not slumping Los Angeles Galaxy, the Sounders can’t be caught looking ahead. FC Dallas is too talented, pesky and floppy to take lightly. Think of Vancouver, one call can quickly end a season.
Mauro Diaz is available tonight. Dallas coach Oscar Pareja’s single lineup decision triggers Dallas’s entire existential quandary, to play the 4-4-2 or not to play the 4-4-2. Will Pareja exclude his best playmaker to stick with the formation that keeps speedster Escobar and Castillo wide? This lineup (two big men in Akindele and Perez up top complemented by the aforementioned pacey wingers) has given the Sounders fits.
Dallas has been successful attacking Seattle’s left flank. I have flashbacks of Escobar slashing into the box to score in September and, of course, doing so again last week to earn the penalty. If Pareja keeps Diaz benched, we’d have tough decisions in how to deploy leftback Leo Gonzalez, who’s on a yellow card. Dallas’s offense moves well when, like in basketball, they charge the paint and fish for a foul. But Mauro Diaz is a better player and makes Dallas a “better” team. Though tonight, with both teams’ seasons on the line, Pareja doesn’t need to figure out what makes Dallas the better team, just what they need to do to beat the Sounders.
BOLD PREDICTION: Dallas starts in the 4-4-2 but Diaz is in the 18. Pareja hopes to only use Diaz if the Hoops need to chase a goal late. Which of course they do. Seattle also keeps a talented midfielder on the bench, as Brad Evans again starts in the middle for a not-yet-100% Gonzalo Pineda. Seattle is at home where their defense has been tight lately (only ceding that shady Kekutah Manneh goal in the last month). Dallas does get an away goal but it doesn’t matter as the Clint and Oba show perform under primetime’s lights. Seattle 3-1. Hail Hydra.