2023 Season

Steve Davis: 5 reasons FC Dallas can advance against the Seattle Sounders

10.24 Steve FCDvSeattle

DALLAS, Texas - Once the buzz of accomplishment (MLS playoffs, y’all!) wears off it’s hard for anyone around FC Dallas to fall in love with this particular matchup. Seattle’s high stack of MLS postseason success comes into clear focus when considering these things.

On the other hand, nobody around FC Dallas will look at this series and not see some pathways to success. The margin for error might be small, but there absolutely are reasons to believe FCD can advance in the best-of-three series.

Here are five reasons to think so:

1.  Momentum makes a difference

Make no mistake, 90 minutes in Carson, Calif., on last week’s Decision Day was a huge “swing vote” so to speak. See, FC Dallas was on a big run of … well, a big run of “something,” depending on how you’d personally like to paint this one.

FCD had been winless in 5 matches. 

But FCD was also undefeated over that set of five.

So Nico Estevez’s men had surely proven they were hard to beat. Where they were less convincing: could they actually push a “W” across the finish line? 

Well, that’s what they did against the Galaxy. Significant, too, was the breadth of achievement, a four-goal outburst, all in one half, a first under Estevez. There was a downshift after the break into savvy match management, the prudent route to a comfortable 4-1 win.

Yes, the previously eliminated Galaxy was arguably missing motivation and starters. But you still have to go take care of business, which FCD did, and right away – ringing the bell for “momentum” along the way.

2. Road form, a huge checkmark:

Angst over Dallas’ inability to win at home lately is understandable. But there’s a shinier side to that coin: FCD has been something close to outstanding on the road lately.

Estévez’s team is 2-1-3 away from Toyota Stadium since mid-July. That’s 1.5 points a game over that stretch, easily superior to MLS average road points this year (0.97).

The team’s one loss over the last three months came in St. Louis, where FCD played a man down for most of the match following Paes’ early red card. The road wins came over the Galaxy and playoff-bound RSL. Those road draws came at Seattle, Philadelphia and Houston – all top 4 finishers in their conference. 

3. Not quite the same ol’ Sounders

Seattle is in the playoffs as the West’s No. 2 seed thanks to stingy defending, tied with Nashville for fewest goals conceded in MLS this year (32). 

They defend all over the field, but veteran center back Yeimar Andrade (known commonly as Yeimar) alongside rising star Jackson Ragen, taking direction from longtime No. 1 Stefan Frei behind them, are the heavy weapons of the arsenal.

Conversely, the attack just isn’t what it was during that signature five-year run, when Seattle appeared in four MLS Cup finals between 2016-20, winning twice. Seattle is tied with Dallas for fewest goals scored among the Western Conference’s nine postseason qualifiers.

Raul Ruidiaz’s production has fallen significantly over the last two seasons, when he’s been healthy enough for just 25 of 68 league starts. Nico Lodeiro (10 assists this year) can still change the game with a stealthy run or pass, but simply isn’t as mobile or as indefatigable at 34 years old. He’s already announced his intention to leave Seattle at year’s end.

None of this means Seattle isn’t dangerous. But it does tell us this: games will likely be tight and low scoring. And FC Dallas has been scrappy in that kind of match all year.

4. Bernie Kamungo

FCD’s most dynamic difference makers on attack, Alan Velasco and Jesus Ferreira, showed regression in 2023 in bottom line production. But just as Ruidiaz and Lodeiro have the skill to alter fortunes at any moment, so do Velasco and Ferreira. Plus, FCD has a new ace in the deck: Kamungo.

Kamungo’s desire to run behind the opposition back line, again and again, opens up and enlivens FCD’s attack. A defender’s efforts to protect against those runs can push the back line’s starting positions rearwards by 5-10 yards. Even just a few yards can loosen the lines, opening operating space for Velasco and Ferreira, or for Asier Illarramendi to ping those killer entry balls we’ve seen since his late season introduction.

Plus, Kamungo has shown he’s up for the big moment. His goals tend to be important ones.

5. Recent success in Seattle

Road draws may not be as sexy as a good, old fashioned whuppin (see “L.A. Galaxy” above) but they generally get the job done. And some road draws feel like genuine accomplishment, like the result on July 15 at Seattle’s Lumen Field.

FCD rode Kamungo’s goal, plus unflagging performance from Nkosi Tafari, Paes and a couple others to a 1-1 draw

If draws never truly jingle your keys, consider that FC Dallas has gone into Lumen Field 17 times since the club’s only win there (2011). The Sounders had plenty of possession (60 percent) and shots (17) but not a high volume of actual threat. Paes controlled his area and handled some crosses, but rarely needed to be Super Maarten. It was dogged and tactical and required lots of defensive discipline, but in the end it was a fairly comfortable point earned. 

The players have proven they can draw level there. And if it comes to penalty kicks, Paes has faced three in the run of play this year, conceding just once.