It had to feel a bit surreal for Oscar Pareja and FC Dallas. After the first half in Sunday night’s first leg of the Western Conference semifinals, Pareja’s men had held Obafemi Martins, Clint Dempsey, and the rest of the Seattle attack at bay and found themselves with a 1-0 lead going into halftime.
FCD has been a second half team all season. During the regular season, they scored the fifth most second half goals of any team in the league and often relied on their second half performances to carry them to positive results.
To be sitting in the locker room with a 1-0 lead against the number one team in the Western Conference must have been a pleasant surprise, especially considering their home performances of late.
And honestly, the lead was much deserved. Apart from one defensive breakdown that forced Raul Fernandez to make a crucial save in the Dallas goal, Seattle was stifled up front and lacked any real goal scoring threat in the first half.
Martins looked bright, but often lacked the support in the counter attack that he is so accustomed to receiving from his teammates.Unfortunately for Dallas, the team that scored the most second half goals in the regular season was, you guessed it, Seattle.
It only took one lapse of defensive attention from Fabian Castillo for Seattle to show why they are the number one seed in the Western Conference. Ozzie Alonso latched on to the end of a Seattle set piece and headed home to equalize for the Sounders.
While the goal was certainly deserved, it was noticeably painful to the FC Dallas squad. Their defensive organization had been incredible all game. Defensive duo Zach Loyd and Matt Hedges did everything they could to shut down Martins and Dempsey, and they did it successfully.
One simple fault from an otherwise positive Castillo was all that Seattle needed to seize the opportunity and an all-important goal away from home.
But there was something much more significant about Alonso’s goal that really had FC Dallas down and dejected about the result. It wasn’t just the let down of working hard but having to settle for a tie. The disappointment was a result of MLS’ adoption of the away goals rule.
If you are unfamiliar with this rule, here is a simple breakdown:
Should two teams be tied on aggregate goals after both legs of the playoff round, the team with the most AWAY goals will advance.
The rule is in place to reward teams for scoring goals in a more hostile and difficult stadium. Simply put, it’s harder to score goals away from home, so let’s reward teams for doing it.
So, how is this significant? It’s hard to see the impact when you just read the rule. Instead, let’s look at a few scenarios that could play out in the second leg in Seattle.
Result: FC Dallas 0 – 0 Seattle Sounders.
Aggregate total: 1-1
Even though a 0-0 result in front of a tough crowd in Seattle would be a fantastic score line for FCD, because they failed to score an away goal, Seattle would advance.
Result: FC Dallas 2 – 2 Seattle Sounders
Aggregate total: 3-3
Now, even though the result of the game is still a tie, because Dallas would have 2 away goals to Seattle’s 1, Dallas would advance.
Because of Seattle’s away goal, they hold a big advantage going into the second leg. FCD has to score a goal. If they fail to score, regardless of whether the game is a draw or a loss, Seattle is moving on. Seattle could form a human wall around their goal line, as long as they keep FCD out of it, and advance to the Western Conference Finals.
While I don’t expect a human wall, I do expect a VERY defensive setup from Seattle. Just think about it; if I told you that you didn’t have to score to win, all you had to do was keep the other team from scoring, why would you make yourself vulnerable and send out a strong, attacking lineup?
You wouldn’t. And that’s why FC Dallas is in a tough spot come next Monday. Oscar Pareja’s men will need at least one goal if they are to keep their hopes for their first ever MLS Cup alive. And they’ll have to do it against a team that doesn’t have to score.