BY Andrew Harvey 10:56PM 11/08/2015

Dallas ends Sounders season on penalties

After three goals were scored in seven late minutes, Seattle could not outlast a younger FC Dallas team and fell 4-2 on penalties, ending ingloriously the Western Conference semifinals, as well as its season.

Stefan Frei stood on his head to keep the Sounders in Sunday’s contest, but was out of luck as Seattle was eliminated from the playoffs on penalties. / Jane Gershovich, Seattle Sounders FC file

For an instant Sunday, the Seattle Sounders looked like the team of destiny. Then the moment passed. After a late goal put them ahead on aggregate, it looked as if the Sounders were bound for the conference finals, but a final collapse shattered a hopeful season as they tied FC Dallas 3-3 on aggregate, losing 4-2 on penalties.

“We thought that we would work hard and that we deserved something,” said keeper Stefan Frei. “It’s very unfortunate to not get rewarded for sticking together and fighting.”

In a way, what is surprising is not that the Sounders were defeated Sunday, but that they were playing at all. A summer’s worth of poor form, absent chemistry, and abysmal results saw the team go 1-9 in the middle of the season, as players dropped left and right due to injury or suspension.

Then, after a slew of big-budget, high-profile acquisitions were brought into the fold, the team’s fortunes seemed to reverse, as it went unbeaten over its final nine regular season matches and vanquished its longtime postseason tormentor, the LA Galaxy, Oct. 28.

Entering Sunday, with a 2-1 lead on aggregate after the home leg against Dallas, it was possible to perceive Seattle as the favorite, even though they were matched up with the number one seed in the Western Conference. That simply wasn’t true.

Seattle gritted its teeth to outlast the Galaxy, benefiting from defensive miscues on all of its goals. The team carried a goal advantage into Sunday’s contest thanks only to a Clint Dempsey free kick late in the first leg, after an unconvincing response to the question of how they would handle Dallas’s superior speed.

The situation Sunday was exacerbated by the absences of Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans and Leo Gonzalez due to injury, forcing Seattle to lean on an injured Zach Scott and the young Oniel Fisher, who struggled to match the pace and energy of Dallas’ forwards.

The opening 20 minutes witnessed a frantic back-and-forth affair, each side coming close to scoring. Despite the fight, the Sounders were unable to establish a consistent midfield presence, effectively creating a barrier between the attacking third and the rest of the field.

After it became apparent that Seattle could not count on midfield possession, the team hunkered down to protect its lead, packing players behind the ball on defense and letting the offense consist of knocking the ball toward Obafemi Martins at forward and seeing what the Nigerian could produce.

Unfortunately for Seattle, Martins finally ran out of ideas. Absent adequate midfield support, his frantic energy was disjointed and lacking typical physical finesse. The Sounders ran out of gas, spending the majority of the match lying down in front of Dallas shots.

Dallas controlled the ball for 55 percent of the match, outshooting Seattle 25-10.

But as uninspired as the Sounders’ offense seemed, the defense was spirited.

Frei, in particular, turned in one final,  jaw-dropping performance in 2015. He made eight saves, many of which involved shots that were taken within 10 yards of the net, including catching a header attempt from Fabian Castillo while lying flat on his back.

After the match, Frei was too disappointed to reflect on his 10-shutout season.

“In the end, maybe when I have a clear head, I’ll look at it and say it was a decent season for me personally, but right now, it’s not really possible,” he said.

Eventually, Frei’s highlight-reel saves were exhausted. In the 84th minute, Je-Vaughn Watson took the ball into the right alley, striking a cross that found the head of substitute Tesho Akindele, ricocheting into the net to end the scoreless tie, and tie the aggregate score, bringing Dallas’ road-goal advantage into play.

Needing a goal to keep the pressure on, Seattle looked like a stalled engine at first, but slowly made progress over the final six minutes of regulation.

Desperate to notch a goal, coach Sigi Schmid removed Fisher from the back line in favor of Marco Pappa.

Pappa provided the spark in the form of a 90th minute corner kick. Chad Marshall leaped and headed the ball over the line, giving Seattle a 3-2 lead on aggregate with what seemed certain to be the series winner.

A minute later, FC Dallas won a corner kick of its own against Andreas Ivanschitz, who shifted to right back to make up for Fisher’s absence. The first cross was knocked away, but was tipped back into the penalty area as the defenders stepped away from their marks. Another substitute, Walker Zimmerman, whipped his head to the right and sent the ball into the net to force extra time.

“We were trying to get the message out to the field for (Cristian) Roldan to go to left back and for Ivanschitz to come into the midfield, but we couldn’t get that message to our players,” said Schmid. “We couldn’t make that switch until the overtime.”

Out of substitutions and out of gas, Seattle’s lineup in extra time looked as ramshackle as it did at any point during the summer slump, with Chad Barrett playing central midfield and the planned shift of Roldan to left back, as Dallas shifted to a 4-1-4-1, eager to make use of its younger, fresher legs.

After an additional 30 minutes of scorelessness, Seattle’s season came down to penalties. Dallas GK Jesse Gonzalez, 20, saved efforts from Ivanschitz and Barrett, before Zimmerman stepped up and smashed the ball past a rooted Frei to send Dallas on to the Western Conference finals.

As the sun set on Schmid’s seventh season at the helm, again without an MLS Cup, he was asked if he planned to return.

“(I do want to come back), but that’s not my decision. That’s the ownership’s decision and they’ll decide that,” said Schmid, who went on to say that his health that caused him to miss two matches in August weren’t a concern. “I feel fine and I still feel capable of coaching.”

Asked if he had anything to say to the fans, Schmid focused on Seattle’s record of success.

“The Cup is what we haven’t given them yet,” said Schmid. “We’ve given them four Open Cups, we’ve given them a Supporters’ Shield.

“There’s nothing the guys in the room want to do more than bring an MLS Cup back to Seattle, and hopefully, one day, that’ll happen.”

Whether Schmid and some of his aging veterans are still with the club when it happens will be the question of a long off-season.

For the now the Sounders will cling to a wish—not a trophy—as they watch Dallas and Portland, 2-0 winners over Vancouver, play for the West’s spot in the MLS Cup Dec. 6.



  • notaboomer

    thrilling game but oh such a dreadful ending.

  • jafabian

    I’m not about to jump on “Fire Sigi” bandwagon that’s prevalent on the web right now. When the Sonics were bounced in the first round of NBA playoffs two years in a row when they were clearly one of the top teams in the league many people called for George Karl’s firing. But management’s stance was that there wasn’t a better coach available and George was the right man to helm the team. They then went to the Finals. There isn’t a better coach IMO available than Sigi. If anything, the team needs to work on getting some younger players to add to their depth. Their key players are all over 30. Got to wonder if Yedlin could have made a difference. Really hoping Jordan Morris ends up joining.

    • ClashCityRocker

      Good points. Agree that while Frei was one of few bright spots during regulation and ET, he seemed out of sorts during PK shootout, rarely, if at all, going in the direction the ball went.

      • Ryan Parrish

        I’d be out of sorts too after 120 minutes of game play.

    • Ryan Parrish

      It’s not that Sigi is a bad coach, but that maybe they need a different coach. 7 years and no playoff breakthrough is probably enough time to decide to move on. I don’t know enough about the coaching market, but you know management and ownership have to be considering it now.

      • jafabian

        The only coaches better than Sigi that are available are in Europe. No one is going to leave Europe to coach in MLS, no matter the money. There’s some solid NCAA coaches but they don’t have the experience in dealing with international pros that Sigi does. Adrian was scrambling in July and brought in several players in a move to jump start the team. ( Kind of like what Jack Z. did for the M’s.) At some point so many new faces and their unfamiliarity with one another caught up with them. I’m sure Joe, Adrian and Garth will consider a change but will realize they need youth and depth more than a different voice heading the team.

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  • inplaylose

    Too many injuries. No Torres, no Evans and no Alonso made Dallas a bad match up for them. If they could get their best XI on the field, Seattle’s is better than anyone in the league. But that’s part of the problem – we never see their best XI, and the depth just isn’t there. This past summer was dreadful with all the injuries and suspensions and also the call-ups for the Gold Cup, but that’s always going to be a problem in a very physical league in a country which doesn’t take prolonged international breaks. I’m not on the “Fire Sigi” bandwagon at all, especially after losing on penalties, which is basically a lottery. But this team, across the board, should be better than it is. They are constrained by weird MLS salary cap issues, and yet they still have far more resources than just about anyone in the league. The club needs more depth and you start to look at how they’ve spent, and who they’ve spent it on, and wonder if they’ve gone about constructing a team in the right way.

    • jafabian

      Deciding a match on PK’s is like doing a HR derby in the ALCS to decide who goes to the World Series. They really needed Evans and Ozzy at that point.