Here are some keys to the game, which will decide who plays for the conference title next week.
Hold the line
The Sounders will likely feature an inexperienced back line against FC Dallas.
Kelvin Leerdam, the club’s veteran right fullback, returned to training Friday after missing the playoff opener with an injured hamstring. While he’s available for selection, whether he’s ready to play a full 90 minutes is unknown.
Center back Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador) is in a similar situation. He was called up for international duty and required to quarantine upon return. He’s available for selection, but first-choice midfielder Gustav Svensson (Sweden) is out because he didn’t pass medical protocols in his return.
The absences and question marks could mean center backs Shane O’Neill and Yeimar along with fullbacks Alex Roldan and Nouhou get the start. The win against Los Angeles FC last week was the postseason debut for Roldan and Yeimar. It was just the second playoff start for O’Neill and first for Nouhou since 2018.
The group conceded one goal, but it was the defending that Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer praised following the 3-1 win. Especially seeing strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris hustle to defend late into the match despite the Sounders possessing the lead.
Dallas doesn’t have a potent offense, scoring just 28 goals during the regular season. But the side can be tricky when on the attack. The Sounders will have to work together to limit chances no matter who starts on the back line.
Youth vs. Wisdom
Dallas could start two 19 year olds in defender Bryan Reynolds and midfielder Jesus Ferreira, the latter playing 78 minutes in the playoff loss to the Sounders last season.
While Dallas does have older players in key positions, like 32-year-old striker Franco Jara, who once played for Argentina’s national team, he’s in his first MLS season. Others don’t have much playoff experience.
The Sounders, who won two MLS Cup titles the past four years, are definitely more seasoned and need to use that wisdom to counter any youthful exuberance Dallas likely will display.
In the playoff matchup last season, FCD’s energy nearly overcame the Sounders in the opening round. Dallas rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force overtime, ultimately losing 4-3 at then-CenturyLink Field.
FCD is already energized after upsetting Portland on the road in a penalty shootout last week at Providence Park. The longer Dallas hangs with the Sounders, the more dangerous the visitors will become.
Work the angles
Will Dallas keeper Jimmy Maurer’s fairy-tale season end at the feet of Ruidiaz, Morris, and Nico Lodeiro? Maurer was pegged as a backup, but took the starting spot in goal when Jesse Gonzalez was suspended by Dallas in June.
Maurer, 32, was impressive during the regular season, with a 79.4% save percentage and .84 goals against average. He bumped up the performance in the postseason opener against Portland, totaling seven saves in 120 minutes for a 1-1 draw. In the penalty shootout, he had a diving tip-save as the game-winning stop.
But Maurer hasn’t faced Ruidiaz, Morris and Lodeiro in his four-year MLS career. In fact, he’s only played the Sounders once — a 3-0 home win in March 2018. Lodeiro and Morris didn’t make an appearance while Ruidiaz wasn’t signed until that summer.
The Sounders have scored nearly every way possible this season, including Lodeiro’s 4-for-4 showing on penalty kicks. If Maurer can defend one of the best attacks in club history, his Cinderella story will continue.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.