Dallas, truth be told, was the better team Sunday night, just as it was for most of the first leg in Seattle. Dallas pinned Seattle back for almost the entirety of the second half, into extra time, then won in penalty kicks.

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FRISCO, Texas — There was cruelty to the fact that Stefan Frei, of all Sounders, was made to toe the firing line, his toes wriggling and his eyes bulging.

For 180 minutes plus the bonus half-hour, Frei had kept Seattle in this three-tome epic of a Western Conference semifinal series against FC Dallas. He’d splayed out legs, hockey-style, and pawed shots out of the top corner.

Yet when the drama at long last reached its climax, Frei stood alone as Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman strode confidently to the penalty spot, chambered a round and fired it decisively into the back of the net.

Zimmerman’s spot kick gave Dallas a 4-2 determining edge in the shootout following its 2-1 victory on Sunday at Toyota Stadium that evened the two-game series at 3-3 at the end of regulation.

This would have been one of the matches of the year, even if it were a midweek regular-season game during the dog days of July. Sonnets could be written about the final 10 minutes of regulation alone, when aggregate scores and away-goal tiebreakers were tallied and forgotten in a matter of moments.

The teams combined for three goals in seven minutes, with Zimmerman’s stoppage-time, series-tying header coming less than a minute after Chad Marshall had seemingly fired the Sounders into the conference finals.

“I don’t think I’ve ever really been through anything quite like that,” Seattle midfielder Andy Rose admitted afterward in a subdued locker room.

Dallas is the top seed in the Western Conference, but few really considered it the favorite in the series. This is the MLS Cup playoffs, where stars rule the day, a theory underlined by Clint Dempsey’s late free kick that settled the first leg at CenturyLink Field. Oscar Pareja’s FC Dallas has the second-lowest payroll in the league, a ravenous group of overachievers most analysts treated with a head pat.

“At no point do we feel like the underdogs,” Seattle defender Zach Scott said. “We go into every series and every game feeling like we should win it. It’s a proud group.”

Dallas, truth be told, was the better team Sunday night, just as it was for most of the first game last weekend in Seattle. Though Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said afterward that any player personnel questions would wait for another day, this was an expensively built group with ambitions far beyond the conference semifinal round — and this result was no fluke.

“That’s the ownership’s decision and they’ll decide that,” Schmid said when asked if he plans to return next season. “I feel fine and capable of coaching.”

FC Dallas pinned Seattle back for almost the entirety of the second half, dribbling dangerous crosses through the box and racking up 25 shots. Playmaker Mauro Diaz controlled the match throughout, sitting deep and picking seams with intelligent passes.

With six minutes to go, the score still stuck at zero and Dallas on its way out, Tesho Akindele ran onto Je-Vaughn Watson’s cross and headed it powerfully inside the near post. The goal celebrations were well-earned and short-lived.

The Sounders threw on attackers Chad Barrett and Marco Pappa as their final two substitutes, and the latter won a 90th-minute corner that allowed Seattle to pack even more bodies into the box.

“Something inside me knew that we were going to score,” Rose said. “And sure enough, Chad comes up at a massive time. You think you’ve done enough to get through.”

They hadn’t. Zimmerman answered at the other end of the field almost immediately after the restart, and Fabian Castillo nearly won it at the buzzer only for Frei to pluck the ball out of the air from his back.

The late drama was soccer at its best — and its most cruel. Penalty shootouts are especially torturous.

Dempsey rolled the first shot inside the left post, but it quickly went downhill from there for Seattle. Twenty-year-old Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez dived acrobatically to his left to deny Andreas Ivanschitz, and Barrett followed with a weak shot that was easily smothered. Rose converted in round four to keep the Sounders alive, but Dallas didn’t blink.

All four FCD penalty-takers, none of whom is over the age of 24, stepped up and delivered — Diaz, Ryan Hollingshead and Akindele in quick succession.

Zimmerman went last and hit his shot the hardest. His shot whistled inside the left post and crashed into the back of the net, leaving Frei on his back, spent and beaten.

“I don’t think it hits you yet,” Frei said. “Even when you have a bye week, when you have three or four days off, after three days off, you have that itch again. You miss being in the locker room. You miss playing with your teammates. That, immediately, is the first thing I thought of.

“It’s going to be way too long of an offseason.”

Sounders playoff history
Seattle has never advanced to the MLS Cup final
Year Record Playoffs
2009 12-7-11 CS
2010 14-10-6 CS
2011 18-7-9 CS
2012 15-8-11 CF
2013 15-12-7 CS
2014 20-10-4 CF
2015 15-13-6 CS
CS: conference semifinals; CF: conference finals