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Three things to watch for as FC Dallas takes on Seattle in Game Three
If FC Dallas can replicate Game Two with parts of Game One, they may find a way to escape Seattle with a win.
When the MLS Cup Playoff bracket was released, FC Dallas knew they had a tough task in front of them when they drew the Seattle Sounders in Round One.
Going to Seattle has never been an easy trip for FC Dallas over the years, with only one victory at Lumen Field dating all the way back to 2011 (FCD has a 1-14-6 all-time record in Seattle). With a Best-of-Three series against the Sounders, it meant FC Dallas would have to find a way to pick up a rare win in Seattle in order to advance back to the MLS Western Conference semifinals for a second year in a row.
FC Dallas will have to find ways to capitalize on their chances and defend well if they want to extend their season. Here are some keys to Friday’s game that we see playing a big factor for FC Dallas.
Playing a complete game
Following the Game Two win last weekend, head coach Nico Estevez was pretty elated with his team’s performance, enough to say that he felt any one of his players could have earned the Man of the Match honors.
“I was telling the guys that when we are in the playoffs, and someone asked me, ‘Who is the Man of the Match?’ I cannot decide - this is how you play the playoffs,” explained Estevez. “If we play like this, everyone could be Man of the Match, then we competed really well. I don’t think we all competed that way at Seattle, but tonight, we were back to that.”
There have really only been a couple of true, complete games for FC Dallas in 2023. Weirdly enough, most of them were done away from home, too. If you look at the Decision Day win in LA, the mid-September win at Real Salt Lake, or the wins at Miami or Austin earlier in the spring, FC Dallas has a knack for finding results.
The trouble has been playing a full 90 minutes. Defender Nkosi Tafari told me when the club was in the middle of their weird streak of draws late in the season that their lack of complete games was a reason why they were midtable in 2023. They know the ability is there, they have to dig deep to find it on Friday night.
Part of that will be making the most of their chances on goal. Despite the three goals in Game Two, FC Dallas didn’t create a ton of chances on the Sounders goal. The same could be said for their performance in Game One. The difference between those two matches was that FC Dallas finished those few chances off in Game Two, whereas, in Game One, they failed to do so1.
Defending the wings
One thing that stood out between Game One and Game Two was the way FC Dallas defended the wings. In the first match almost two weeks ago in Seattle, FC Dallas struggled along the wings, which allowed the Sounders to break them down in the second half, causing the insurance goal from Jordan Morris.
In Game Two, FC Dallas was much more composed along the wings. Ema Twumasi and Sam Sunqua had easily their best matches in a Dallas uniform to this date.
“He’s a guy that wants to learn is a guy with the sense is competitive, you know, and he, I think he had the experience of last year playoff, and he wanted to change that experience,” Estevez said of Twumasi following Game Two. “He will have to give us, again, one of his best performances in order to beat Seattle.”
Still, Seattle, on their home turf, is a tough team to defend. The speed of the turf plays a factor, and FC Dallas will have to manage the game a little bit differently on Friday night. Part of that may be relying a bit more on their center midfielders, Asier Illarramendi and Liam Fraser, to clog more passing lanes or keep a bit of calmness on the ball when the club is in possession.
On paper, this series really could come down to who comes off the bench for either side and produces some magic. Seattle should have the edge when you see names like Raul Ruidiaz or Nico Loderio. Two game-changer type players who can make a difference and have in the past for the Sounders.
For FC Dallas, we saw in Game Two just how impactful the bench can be when Estevez brings players on at the right time. Late in the match, when Seattle was pressuring for a game-tying goal, Estevez brought in three speedsters that can defend and cause issues: Jader Obrian, Dante Sealy and Eugene Ansah. Their pressure and speed helped force turnovers, which also led to an insurance goal from Obrian (and almost another goal from him had he not had a classic sitter).
“I think when an opponent is tired, and you bring players like how they're like Jader (Obrian), Eugene Ansah and Dante Sealy that they have a lot of physicality,” said Estevez. “They have legs to run, and they also have quality. It is difficult for the opponents to deal with that.”
If the game is tied late and the Sounders look tired in the midfield or along their backline, it makes a ton of sense to bring in a trio like this to cause issues.
FCD even accumulated more Expected Goals in the 2-0 away loss than they did in their home win (1.2 to 0.8). It continues to come down to finishing for FC Dallas in 2023.