Sounders Ready to Capitalize on Home-Field Advantage
Last Sunday, the Seattle Sounders FC faced FC Dallas in the first leg of their first round playoff series. The match took place at Toyota Stadium in Dallas, and although both teams had great chances to score many goals, the scoreline remained deadlocked after the game: 1-1.
Now the home-and-home series shifts back to CenturyLink Field in Seattle, where the Sounders are ready to take advantage of their home field. After scoring an away goal at Dallas, the Sounders put themselves in a more secure position to advance - along with advancing with a win, they can also advance if they draw 0-0. However, something about the attacks on both teams tells me that this won't be a goal-less affair.
When the two teams meet in Seattle, there will be many storylines to follow, but there are a couple of key factors that could decide whether the Sounders win and move on or lose in the playoffs for the sixth straight year:
- Aggression on both sides of the ball: The Sounders cannot afford to be complacent on defense and allow an early goal, forcing them to play catch-up from behind. The defense must be aggressive from the opening whistle, especially against Dallas' potent attack. They cannot sit back and absorb pressure, and instead, must force Dallas into early errors and capitalize on those mistakes. On the other end, the offense must also fire away at goal. If there was a perfect time to shoot, now would be it - the Sounders attack has been at full force this season, and with Dempsey, Martins, Neagle, and Pappa, the Sounders should not be hesitant to take advantage of any opportunities that they get in front of goal.
- Stefan Frei has to be on his A-Game: Though FC Dallas only scored off of a penalty in the first leg of this series, their offense must not be taken lightly. Led by Blas Perez and Fabian Castillo in their attack, Dallas has a scary duo who can score when given the chance. As well, Michel has a great left boot that's bound to trouble the Sounders backline, and with the return of midfielder Mauro Diaz, the Dallas offense will be stronger than ever. That is why Stefan Frei must play the game of his life, making saves and organizing the defense to prevent leaks in the back. If he plays well, the Sounders will play well as a unit.
- DeAndre Yedlin's Time to Shine: After Yedlin's magnificent World Cup performance, he has been the talk of the town, especially amongst the USMNT; however, he is still only 21 years old and has plenty of room for growth. This is the match for him to finally take over and open up acres of space for the Sounders forwards. Yedlin's ability to attack the flank will be tested, especially since Dallas has the firepower to counter quickly. If Yedlin can find cracks in the Dallas midfield and defense, it can create entirely new possibilities for the Sounders.
- Key Decisions by Sigi Schmid: This game can eventually come down to the substitutes that both teams make, with the difference between a win and a loss possibly coming in the form of a late oncomer. I believe that Sounders FC Coach Sigi Schmid must utilize his bench to the best of his capacity. Three key bench players are Andy Rose, Chad Barrett, and Kenny Cooper. All of these players can come into the game and have an immediate impact - the question is whether Sigi Schmid will use any of these guys, and if so, when? He cannot wait to incorporate one of these players into the match flow. If Coach Schmid wants a quick change of pace in the gameplay, these are the three players to look towards.
- Wild Crowd at CenturyLink Field: They say home-field advantage is always significant - after all, it is referred to as an advantage. Back home in Seattle, the Sounders will be eager to represent for their home city, and with the crazed fans donning the rave green jerseys and face paint, the atmosphere will be intense. The fans know that this team can go all the way, and they won't be afraid to let Dallas hear it on the pitch.
- Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey: No explanation is needed. If the Sounders expect to win, these two guys have to show up.
Through their short history, the Sounders have certainly had their share of dramatic games; however, this pivotal match seems to hold a greater deal of weight than all others previously. More than just the MLS title is at stake - the Sounders have the possibility to claim the treble, having already won the U.S. Open Cup and the Supporters' Shield, and after managing to make the playoffs in each of their first six years of existence, are in a position to finally compete for the title of the being the best team in the league.
I predict a 2-1 win by the Sounders, helping them advance to the conference finals. This is the year. Sixth time's the charm.