FC Dallas came up big on MLS Decision Day, beating the Galaxy and getting themselves the 7th spot and a first round best-of-3 series with their regular playoff foes Seattle. This week, we’ll preview the Burn’s first round series and look at what FCD should expect and how they can move on to the Western Conference Semifinals.
How It Works and How to Watch
If there’s anything consistent about MLS’ playoff structure it is the inconsistency of MLS’ playoff structure from year to year. In 2023, with the new Apple deal, MLS expanded the playoff field to 9 teams in each conference, with the 8th and 9th placed teams playing a play-in game to determine the matchup for the top team in the conference. The proper first round is a best of 3. Unlike the old two legged playoff format, aggregate goals and away goals are irrelevant, each game will have a winner, with games going straight to penalty kicks if there’s no winner decided in 90 minutes. Dallas’ schedule is as follows:
Monday, October 30th – Lumen Field, 8 PM CT
Saturday, November 4th – Toyota Stadium, 8 PM CT
Friday, November 10th – Lumen Field, 9 PM CT (if necessary)
All three games are available on MLS Season Pass through Apple with the first game also being broadcast on Fox Sports 1.
If Dallas does move on from the first round, things go back to how they worked in the last couple seasons with the higher seeded team hosting a single game to determine who moves on. For Dallas to host any games beyond the first round, they would need to advance to the Western Conference final and hope San Jose Earthquakes or Sporting Kansas City make it. Similarly in MLS Cup, they would only host if 8th or 9th place New York Red Bulls or Charlotte FC make a crazy run to the final. Suffice to say, if Dallas is going to make a run, it is going to be on the road.
Just like Dallas, Seattle enter the playoffs on a 9 game unbeaten run, having won 4 and drawn 5 in that stretch of games. Seattle ended the regular season with the best defensive record in the west, having conceded just 32 goals in their 34 games. Offensively, they had similar struggles to Dallas, ending the season with the same 41 goals scored as Dallas. Both previous matchups between the Sounders and Burn in 2023 ended in 1-1 draws with the away team in each matchup coming back from a one goal deficit to earn a point.
Seattle are coming to the end of an era with club legend Nico Lodeiro publicly announcing that 2023 would be his last season in rave green. He, and the Sounders as a whole, will certainly be extra motivated to finish this extremely successful era with a bang. Dallas has been a fixture during this era in Seattle’s multiple successful playoff runs. 2023 will mark the 6th time these teams have met in the playoffs in the last 10 years with previous meetings in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2020 with only 2015 resulting in success for Dallas.
As with seasons past, Seattle seem to be cresting at just the right time, hitting their unbeaten streak going into the playoffs with an almost totally healthy squad. The one thing they are missing is the kind of production they’ve come to expect from striker Raul Ruidiaz. Ruidiaz scored just 5 goals in 2023 and largely fell out of the regular starting rotation, with Jordan Morris largely playing as a central striker and leading the team in goals with 11. Leo Chu was a revelation, notching 5 goals to go along with his team leading 7 assists. MLS veterans Albert Rusnak and Cristian Roldan round out their attack that hasn’t been as potent as recent years but is still liable to go off at any moment.
Without a doubt, the Sounders defense was their strong point, arguably the best in the league. Stefan Frei continues to be one of the best goalkeepers in the league and the center back pairing of Yeimar and Jackson Ragen shut down most opposing forwards. Adding to that, Seattle have perhaps the best defensive midfielder in the league in Joao Paulo that holds everything together defensively while also providing plenty going forward. This may not be the absolute best Seattle team in the past decade but they are still certainly one of the favorites to come out of the Western Conference.
Three keys for FC Dallas to advance
1) Don’t play for draws
With FCD’s defensive resilience and 7 draws in their last 9 games, it might be tempting to try to play defensively, earn draws and hope for the best in the penalty shootouts. I think this would be a huge mistake. For one thing, trying to rely on not just one penalty shootout but multiple penalty shootouts would be about the same as trying to rely on coin flips to win a playoff series. More notably, Seattle are the type of team that is very good at taking their chances when given to them. As solid as Dallas’ defense is, they aren’t great at keeping clean sheets, usually conceding one goal in any given game. Dallas would be much better served loosening the offensive reins a bit and trying to attack the game, even playing away in Seattle. It may lead to them conceding more chances and, potentially, more goals, but it may also lead to them doing what they were able to do in Carson on Saturday or Salt Lake in September and scoring goals in bunches.
2) Winning the midfield
FC Dallas don’t necessarily need to dominate the midfield, but the combination of Pomykal, Illarramendi and Velasco (at least I certainly hope this is the combo) are going to need to be at the top of the game for Dallas to advance. This will be one of the fascinating things to watch as, on paper, this is a very attack minded trio, missing an out and out defensive midfielder like Facundo Quignon or Liam Fraser, but their dynamism, intelligence and work rate should help make up for any potential defensive shortcomings. This will be the group tasked with not only stopping Seattle in midfield and limiting the likes of Joao Paulo and Albert Rusnak but also with finding a way to unlock the Seattle backline and create chances for Ferreira, Arriola, Kamungo and Obrian in the FCD attack.
3) Don’t overthink it
In years past, Dallas coaches have been infamous for overthinking things when playing away in Seattle. Oscar Pareja seemed to always want to go away from his usual 4-2-3-1 formation and play with a back 3/5, seemingly out of concern for Seattle’s attack and in efforts to keep the score low for the second leg. In 2019, Luchi Gonzalez rolled out his usual formation but played right back Reggie Cannon on the wing for the first time all season, with a clear concern for Seattle’s attack in mind. In 2020, he did something similar, playing Ryan Hollingshead on the wing instead of his typical fullback spot and generally playing a heavily defensive lineup.
In each case, there was a deep concern for what Seattle could do. This concern is not completely unwarranted, Seattle are certainly a dangerous team, particularly at home, but Dallas, unsurprisingly, struggled in each case, losing outright in 2019 and 2020 and getting into a hole they couldn’t get out of in 2016. Only in 2015 were they able to, just barely, climb out of the hole created in the first leg.
With this new format, winning is the only thing that matters. No away goals, no aggregate score to worry about. Losing 4-0 is exactly the same as losing 1-0 or in penalties. Dallas should go into these games, particularly game 1 in Seattle, and play the way they are most comfortable. Of course you want to game plan for your opponents, but Dallas should not radically alter what they do in fear of what Seattle might do. Have confidence and play your game!
What are your thoughts on the upcoming playoff series between Dallas and Seattle? Will Dallas pull off the upset or will their season come to an end after the first round? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
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