Seattle Sounders FC clinched their ninth straight MLS Cup Playoff appearance Sunday afternoon after a 4-0 home drubbing of struggling FC Dallas. Seattle got a first half goal from Victor Rodriguez to take the lead and then tripled it in a four minute span with a Will Bruin brace, capped off by a stoppage time goal by Lamar Neagle. The shutout marked the 12th on the season for Stefan Frei, setting the club record previously held by former United States National Team keeper Casey Keller.
It was Dallas who started the match with more energy and looked more dangerous in the early moments of the match as Sounders were content to defend and play from deeper on the field.
They would get their first chance of the match in the 12th minute as Seattle cycled the ball back to a deep playing Christian Roldan who released Joevin Jones up the left wing into space behind the now high defensive line of Dallas. Jones managed to beat his defender into the box and set up Clint Dempsey with a pass into the center of the box. Dempsey’s shot was hit well but right at a shifting Jesse Gonzales who parried the ball over the bar for a corner.
In the 23rd minute Seattle would be forced to make a change as Gustav Svensson was replaced by Nouhou after suffering a left hamstring injury. Svensson will be getting an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of the injury. The Sounders reacted by moving Nicolas Lodeiro to defensive midfield, Jones up to left midfield, and Nouhou to left back.
Seattle would get the breakthrough in the 31st minute, capitalizing on a Dallas mistake while trying to defend a deflected pass from Lodeiro. Javier Morales stretched to try and control the ball in the air but his touch fell right to the feet of Dempsey who looked up and made a first touch pass to Rodriguez running into space between two defenders. Rodriguez’s first touch was weighted perfectly and his second touch put the ball past an onrushing Gonzales to give Sounders a 1-0 lead.
The second half was where Seattle really began to pick apart the Dallas defenders, nearly scoring a second goal in the 52nd minute as Lodeiro connected a 40 yard pass to Jones who had split two defenders. Jones’s first touch was inches too far ahead of him, giving Gonzales a chance to knock the ball away but only to Dempsey whose follow up effort to catch out the keeper wasn’t hit well enough to trouble Gonzales as he fell to the ground to claim the ball.
Dallas had a real chance to tie the match in the 54th minute as they forced a turnover at midfield and moved the ball to Mauro Diaz who turned and lead Michael Barrios with a pass through the Sounders defense. Barrios chased the ball down towards the end line and wide of goal before using his first touch to cross the ball past Frei, towards Tesho Akindele. Kelvin Leerdam managed to recover in time though to stop the cross and clear it for a corner.
Ten minutes later, Seattle would double their lead as Bruin fought off a defender to clean up a rebound in front of net. Leerdam managed to beat one defender at the right corner of the box and find Dempsey for a second touch shot with the outside of his right foot. Gonzales managed to get down in time to stop the shot but not catch it and Bruin, with a defender dragging him down, bounced the ball over Gonzales and into the net.
Bruin’s second goal came in the 67th minute as the Dallas defense began to wilt under the constant attacks from the Sounders. Jones found Bruin just inside the box but Bruin’s touch either failed him or he was looking to make a back pass into the run of Dempsey. The ball fell directly to Matt Hedges only for it to deflect off his foot to Rodriguez who cut back between two defenders. As he tried to dribble around the third defender Maynor Figueroa, the ball was poked away directly to Bruin who slotted the shot near post, capping off a chaotic 10 seconds.
Even with the comfortable lead Seattle continued to push the pressure, almost getting Bruin a hat trick but the angle was too difficult and his shot went well wide of net.
In the final seconds of the match, the substitute Neagle would be rewarded for his efforts, scoring a headed goal off of a corner after simply outmuscling his marker Carlos Gruezo to the ball. The lackluster defending by Dallas was simply a microcosm of the second half as Dallas’s defense was out worked for nearly the entire half and failed to recover or stop the ball as well as Seattle.
While Stefan Frei only registered one save on the night, his control in front of goal earned him his club record 12th shutout of the season. Sounders coach, Brian Schmetzer, said after the match that Frei made a point to thank all of his defenders and teammates alike for helping him achieve the club record. While Frei is not one to talk about himself, Schmetzer had high praise saying, “I think he’s arguably goalkeeper of the year,” before emphasising Frei’s ability to consistently come up with key saves when the team needs them most.
It was also a career night for Bruin as his two goals gave him 10 on the season, the fourth time in his career he has hit double digit scoring. After a nine game scoring drought, Bruin said “it felt good to get back on the scoring sheet” and joked some about Schmetzer always talking about defending even though he’s a striker but when asking the coach before the match about how he should defend, Schmetzer replied, “Will, I don’t want to talk about your defending, just score some goals.”
Seattle will close out their season next Sunday at home against Colorado still looking to clinch a first round bye with a win while Dallas will host LA Galaxy needing a result and other fortunes to go their way in order to get the sixth and final playoff spot in the West.
Seattle: Frei; Leerdam, Torres, Marshall, Jones (Shipp 81’); Roldan, Svensson (Nouhou 23’); Lodeiro, Dempsey, Rodriguez (Neagle 76’); Bruin
Dallas: Gonzalez; Grana, Harris, Hedges, Figueroa; Gruezo, Morales (Urruti 57’); Acosta, Diaz (Lamah 70’), Akindele (Ulloa 78’); Barrios
Seattle: Rodriguez 31’ (Dempsey), Bruin 64’, Bruin 67’, Neagle 90’+2’ (Lodeiro, Shipp)
Dallas: Morales 8’ (Caution)