By Evan Webeck, The Sports Xchange
SEATTLE — It will go down as one of the best eight-minute stretches of soccer in Seattle Sounders FC playoff history.
After a first half of peppering FC Dallas goalkeeper Chris Seitz with unsuccessful shots Sunday, the Sounders didn’t take long into the following 45 minutes to turn their opportunities into scores for a 3-0 victory in the first leg of the MLS Western Conference semifinals at CenturyLink Field.
Seattle takes a commanding advantage into the second leg of the aggregate-goal series in Frisco, Texas, on Nov. 6. It is the first time in Sounders history that they hold a multiple-goal lead in an aggregate series.
“It’s important for a lot of different reasons — three very obvious reasons,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “But the fact of the matter is, the talk after the game was, ‘We’re not done. We’re not finished.’ That message will be repeated throughout the week because Dallas is a very dangerous team. We’re not taking anything for granted.”
Forward Nelson Valdez scored the decisive goal for the second straight match after not putting one in the back of the net all season. He connected on a cross from defender Joevin Jones in the 50th minute.
Eight minutes later, Jones punctuated the Sounders’ run with another cross — this time for midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro’s second goal of the night. Lodeiro’s first came just in the 55th minute, as a streaking Jordan Morris hit him in the middle of the box, setting him up to pad the Sounders’ lead.
“The first goal, it took us by surprise. We had the game under control,” Dallas coach Oscar Pareja said. “But after that goal, I thought we could be more mature and just have better composure on the field. … Those 15-20 minutes (to start the second half), we didn’t have our heads on the field.”
As the seasons changed from summer to autumn, and for the Sounders and FC Dallas, from the regular to postseason, so too has the story of Valdez’s second season in Seattle.
Inserted into the starting 11 following his knockout-round heroics — an 88th-minute, go-ahead header to eliminate Sporting Kansas City — to form a new attacking trio for the team, Valdez again was the first Sounder to find the back of the net. Only, Sunday, he wasn’t the only one.
“Nelson deserved it,” Schmetzer said of the lineup change. “I felt that he was on a high after he scored a goal against Kansas City. … It was just a thought process the staff had of, how do we set up the team. What we wanted to do was put Nelson at his natural position … just push (Morris) just underneath but a little higher to make sure he was still able to get in behind. It was a team concept, just about getting the 11 best players on the field.”
Although FC Dallas prevailed in two of the three regular-season matches between the clubs, Seattle’s most dominating performance of the season came in its lone victory — a 5-0 trouncing at CenturyLink Field on July 13. The Sounders’ second-best performance may have come Sunday. Both came against the top regular-season team in MLS.
After surviving the physical play of Sporting KC in the knockout round, Seattle was able to maintain consistent possession and apply constant pressure on Dallas.
It was a match largely dominated by Seattle, which held possession for 55.7 percent of the time while Dallas struggled to even string multiple passes together against the Sounders’ stout backline. Midfielder Ryan Hollingshead, however, got one of Dallas’ few clear shots on Seattle keeper Stefan Frei — and airmailed a shot from inside the box into the stands behind the net.
With Frei shutting out Dallas on 11 shots — only three on target — FC Dallas’ hopes of becoming the first MLS team to win the trio of the Supporters’ Shield, U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup in one season were put on life support. It would need a huge win next week to move on to face the Los Angeles Galaxy or the Colorado Rapids in the Western Conference finals.