Fourteen teams are vying for this year’s MLS Cup, and the postseason features a single-elimination bracket, a first in the league’s 24-year history. The Sounders earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and will host seventh-seeded FC Dallas on Saturday at CenturyLink Field. Here’s some essential information to know heading into Seattle’s opening-round matchup:
Tale of the season
Seattle’s path to the playoffs wasn’t easy. Injuries, international call-ups and conceding 19 goals during a late-season eight-game stretch threatened to erode the Sounders’ standing in the Western Conference. The Sounders clinched the No. 2 seed with a 1-0 result against Minnesota United on Decision Day, meaning Seattle is guaranteed to be a host through the conference semifinals if it keeps winning.
FC Dallas was on a four-game winless streak — including a scoreless draw against Seattle — before a 6-0 outcome against Sporting Kansas City clinched its playoff berth on Decision Day. The club is making its fifth postseason appearance, but this is the first under coach Luchi Gonzales, who’s also making his pro coaching debut. Gonzales has the club taking risks, which haven’t always worked, but Dallas frustrated enough teams during the season to be viewed as a playoff threat.
Head to head
Dallas was 1-0-1 against Seattle this season; however, the games offer little insight to the postseason matchup Saturday. Dallas’ win was due to two Sounders own-goals, and the scoreless draw had Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer calling his team “dysfunctional.” The matchups also had numerous stars from both sides out because of injuries or suspensions. The all-time playoff record between the two doesn’t show an edge, either. The clubs are 2-2-2 when facing off in the postseason, the last in 2016 when Dallas entered as winners of the league’s Supporters’ Shield but Seattle finished as winners of the MLS Cup.
CenturyLink Field is where the Sounders dominate. There’s something about 40,000 fans draped in Rave Green that brings out the best in the club. Seattle was 11-2-4 at home this season, but what might be more comforting is the Sounders’ 9-1-2 all-time mark against Dallas at CenturyLink.
New season, who dis?
Dallas is one of MLS’s charter teams, but many of the players on its current roster were in diapers or not even born in 1996. Of the first-choice lineup, four have significant postseason experience. What Dallas lacks in experience, it makes up in young talent, from goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez to 18-year-old forward Jesus Ferreira, whose father played for Dallas from 2009-13. Ferreira leads the team in scoring with eight goals, while Gonzalez has 84 saves.
Seattle has one of the more seasoned teams in the playoff field. The club is making an MLS-record 11th consecutive postseason appearance, reaching the finals twice in the past three seasons. Six active players were on Seattle’s 2016 championship team, including keeper Stefan Frei, who didn’t miss a start this season and collected a career-high 116 saves with 10 shutouts.
Dallas forward Zdenek Ondrasek (pronounced ZEN-ick Ohn-DRA-sick) is the game’s mystery. Nicknamed “Kobra” by his native Czech Republic fans, Ondrasek missed both games against Seattle this season and didn’t become a consistent feature in his club’s starting lineup until August. He’s made seven starts and totaled seven goals with two assists in 17 appearances overall. Ondrasek enters the playoffs on a high after scoring a goal last week to help his national team end England’s 43-game unbeaten streak in Euro qualifying competitions.
Sounders forward Jordan Morris’ return from a season-ending knee injury in 2018 has been award-worthy. The Mercer Island native has adjusted to lining up on the wing, shooting with his left foot and playing with confidence. Morris scored 10 goals with a career-high seven assists in 26 appearances this season. Seattle is 8-1-2 this season when Morris either scores or records an assist.
Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz started the season strong, scoring in each of the opening three matches. He ended by going goalless in the final five. Part of the reason is the emergence of Morris, but there have also been some missed opportunities by teammates to feed Ruidiaz the ball. Ruidiaz leads the club with 11 goals this season and will remain a prominent piece of Seattle’s attack through the postseason.
The Sounders closed the season with back-to-back clean sheets to plug a leaky defense that conceded the previously mentioned 19-goal stretch. FC Dallas likes to lure opponents into its end of the field, looking for a long service to catch defenders off-guard. The return of Roman Torres to Seattle’s back line should help. The veteran missed 10 games due to a MLS suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. In his first start since July, Torres scored the winning goal — the first of his MLS career — to defeat Minnesota on Decision Day.