Last night’s FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders match was a pulsating, entertaining affair that ended in euphoria for the home side and dejection for the visitors. It was also the first true measure of MLS’s ‘away goals’ rule this season, as the 1-1 aggregate pushed Dallas out due to Seattle scoring on the road in the first leg.
The rule had its desired effect. Seattle probably could have pushed more numbers forward, but even without many bombing runs from Deandre Yedlin, the Sounders created plenty of scoring opportunities with Marco Pappa, Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. Meanwhile, knowing they needed a goal to have a chance to advance, Dallas players pushed hard for scoring chances, led by a trio of near misses by Fabian Castillo.
In my opinion, the rule provided the desired outcome of free-flowing football in a playoff system long bogged down by foul-happy bunker fests. Sure, there were whistles and fouls (and the game probably should have included a penalty each way), but for the most part, the players pushed up the pitch hard.
As the time grew shorter, Seattle predictably put more men behind the ball and waited to counter. Dallas threatened but never broke through. Meanwhile, the Sounders countered in wide-open flourishes of Martins’ speed and Dempsey’s determination.
One might question Oscar Pareja’s lineup, tactics or leaving his substitutions too late, but the way the away goals rule affected the game was brilliant. Rarely has a 0-0 draw seemed so open and hopeful of goals. The rule forces the favored team to push for a score on the road, which Seattle managed to do. That goal, in turn, forced Dallas to do the same at CenturyLink Field.
In the end, Seattle’s defense was stronger, Blas Pérez was ineffective, and Castillo wasted too many chances. The Sounders pushed through and will face LA Galaxy in the most predictable permutation the Western Conference Finals could have produced.
The Galaxy got there another way. Failing to score on the road, Bruce Arena’s squad knew conceding at home could be deadly against Real Salt Lake. Determined to jump ahead first, the Galaxy swarmed Nick Rimando’s goal throughout the first half, finding breakthrough after breakthrough en route to a 5-0 win. Whether that was tactics, superior firepower, or an uncharacteristically disorganized defense (or, more likely, all three) is debatable.
What is less debatable is that the away goal rule seems to be working the way MLS envisioned. The playoffs thus far have been a lot of fun.
[Photo by Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports]