Clint Dempsey Leads Seattle Sounders To Brink Of Western Conference Finals

The Seattle Sounders Football Club achieved a first in the club’s history since joining Major League Soccer in the 2009 season. Sunday’s win marked the first time that Seattle has won the first leg of a two-legged playoff series. In their previous eight attempts, Seattle could only muster three draws and five losses while being outscored eleven to two.

In a postseason full of great matches, our match from CenturyLink Field lived up to all of the expectations. Seattle fans were unsure what to think when the lineups were announced an hour before the match as key players Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans along with Leo Gonzalez were all left out of the matchday 18 by manager Sigi Schmid.

The absences opened the door for Andy Rose and Zach Scott to try to make their mark for the club. Unfortunately for Scott, the Sounders were going up against one of the fastest attack units in Major League Soccer.

One of the biggest things that Seattle needed to do in Sunday’s match, and through this series, was keep counterattacking opportunities to a minimum for FC Dallas. That task was especially critical in Leg 1 with 35-year-old Scott starting at center back alongside Chad Marshall.

Fabian Castillo used his speed to beat Scott for the first of many times in the 11th minute. He drove towards the penalty box one-on-one with Scott, leaving the defender looking for his shorts with a slick move to the left. A big defensive recovery from Erik Friberg being the only thing to stop Castillo from getting a shot away.

It was evident what the gameplan for FC Dallas was as Michael Barrios played in Castillo just two minutes later. Tyrone Mears put himself in position to shield the ball out but Castillo was able to use his pace to beat the ball to the end line forcing Seattle to a throw-in deep in their territory.

FC Dallas would take the lead just five minutes later on the counterattack from none other than Fabian Castillo. The Colombian international sped by Zach Scott before slotting a low shot under Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei to give the visitors a 1-0 lead and a crucial away goal.

The next big scoring chance would come in the 25th minute for the visitors after Andy Rose pulled down Castillo at the top of the box. Mauro Diaz stepped up to take the free kick from straight away. Diaz curled the ball around the Seattle wall but put a little too much curve as it missed past the far post.

Seattle finally started to some chances as the first half progressed. The best of those chances came in the 41st minute as Marco Pappa lined up a free kick to the left of the goalkeeper from 20 yards out. The initial attempt deflected off the wall but bounced right to the feet of Clint Dempsey in the penalty box. It took a split-second for Dempsey to get a shot off but that split-second was enough time for Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez to get himself set. The shot did not bother Gonzalez.

Referee Kevin Stott would blow the halftime whistle after two minutes of stoppage time. The score on the scoreboard reading FC Dallas 1, Seattle Sounders FC 0 but the momentum was turning in favor the hosts.

The Sounders would catch a break in the 56th minute as a shot from Fabian Castillo would strike Tyrone Mears in the arm while in the penalty box. Dallas appealed for a hand ball but Stott was having none of it. Replays appeared to show that the play should have indeed been called a handball as the arm of Mears was away from his body. A break for the home side.

Seattle started pressing forward a little more as the seconds ticked away on the clock. They nearly paid for it as Castillo blew by Scott once again in the 60th minute. He would have had a clear tight-angle shot had it not be for a perfectly timed sliding tackle from center back Chad Marshall.

Finally, the FC Dallas dam broke in the 67th minute. Andreas Ivanschitz gathered the ball at the midfield stripe. He took a diagonal dribbling route across the FC Dallas defense dragging along a defender in the process. Ivanschitz got around the left side of the defense before firing a laser low and to the far corner to bring the scoreline level. CenturyLink Field was sent into raptures as the home crowd believed that a winning result was in their grasp.

FC Dallas nearly took the lead back just two minutes later as Castillo, once again, beat his man to the end line. He fired a low cross prompting a reactionary kick save from Frei. The ball rolled to the crashing David Texeira who could not beat Frei nor the other collapsing defenders.

Second half substitute Nelson Valdez nearly gave the lead to home side in the 71st minute. The Paraguay international trapped a lofted ball with his chest, turned, and fired a dipping volley that beat Gonzalez but just missed over the top of the crossbar. It would have been a goal of the year candidate had it gone but alas it did not.

Seattle kept their foot on the gas with another prime scoring chance just a minute later. Clint Dempsey, now on the left wing, took a ball to the touch line. He fired in a low cross to Obafemi Martins on the near-post run, Martins attempted to deflect the ball into the gaping net with a no-look touch but he did not get all of it. Gonzalez breathed a sigh of relief after falling on the loose ball in the six yard box.

Martins nearly put the Sounders on top in the 85th minute when his shot from 30 yards took a deflection. The deflection nearly caught Jesse Gonzalez leaning the wrong as the young keeper was forced to push the ball out for a corner. The ensuing corner kick would be headed out but substitute Cristian Roldan was fouled outside of the penalty area in a dangerous position.

Goalscorer Andreas Ivanschitz and Clint Dempsey lined up over the ball. After the match, Ivanschitz told reporters, “Obviously, it was a good position for a left-footed player. But he [Dempsey] said, ‘No, no. I’ll take it.”

That would be a very good decision as Dempsey curled the ball around the wall and into the top corner past a diving Jesse Gonzalez. CenturyLink Field burst at the seams as the Rave Green’s faithful erupted with joy. Replays would show that Gonzalez appeared to bank on Ivanschitz taking the kick, in fact, the keeper was leaning slightly to his right during the run ups from Dempsey and Ivanschitz.

Seattle kept up the pressure during the final six minutes while FC Dallas just could not seem to get the ball out of their half of the field. Stott blew the final whistle after three minutes of stoppage time with the final score, Seattle Sounders FC 2, FC Dallas 1.

A huge result for the Sounders who keep their dominance of FC Dallas in the Pacific Northwest alive. The only negative to take out of this match would be that away goal but the biggest positive will be the week to rest. Stay tuned with VAVEL USA throughout the week for updates on the recoveries of Brad Evans and Osvaldo Alonso as well as all of the news surrounding the eight remaining clubs vying for the title of 2015 MLS Cup Champion

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