The Seattle Sounders will face No. 1 seed FC Dallas in the semifinal round of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference playoffs. The first match of the two-game series happens Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says the Sounders have a lot of momentum after their dramatic win against the LA Galaxy Wednesday night to move on in the playoffs.
"It was dazzling," Thiel said. "It was a lot of fun for the fans. Four goals in the first 22 minutes — you just don't see that in soccer, generally, and especially in playoff soccer.
"This was a knockout-round game — one and done. And teams are usually very conservative.
"They're playing not to lose — at least in the first half and sometimes all the way through the game and forcing overtime. So that was sort of what we were expecting, even though both teams have dynamic scorers," he said.
Top Offense Versus Top Defense
"The Galaxy led MLS in goals scored this year. And the Sounders had the fewest goals scored against them. So, it was top offense against top defense. To see this many goals was just a shocker," Thiel said.
"Then things abated until the 73rd minute when the Sounders' midfielder, Erik Friberg, found a ball that got away from the back line of the Galaxy defense and he hammered it home from the top of the penalty area for the decider.
"That was really a great moment because so many fans had been standing in the rain for two hours and thinking, 'Oh man, the Galaxy is going to do it to us again. Robbie Keane or somebody is going to come out of nowhere and score the game-winning goal.' But, in fact, it went the Sounders' way.”
Knocked Out Nemesis And Defending Champs
It was the first year for a knockout-round game in MLS. And it was the fourth time the Sounders met the Galaxy in the playoffs, with Los Angeles winning all three previous match-ups.
"The definition of nemesis," Thiel said.
The Galaxy also won the MLS Cup last year, adding to the drama of the knockout match.
"The fear was compounded during the regular season because the Galaxy won two games and drew a third game with the Sounders," Thiel pointed out.
"So it looked like it was going to be the same old, same old with the Galaxy getting in the Sounders' way of their lofty ambitions.
"The Sounders have done so well from multiple fronts. They've won U.S. Open Cups. They've won the Supporters' Shield. They've done well in the international tourneys. But they haven't even gotten to an MLS Cup [match].
"So this was a real big deal to get past the Galaxy.”
'Just The Beginning’
"The season is hardly over," Thiel said. "In fact, after the game, the head coach of the Sounders, Sigi Schmid, said, 'This is just the beginning of the journey — it's not the end.'
"It just seemed like it because the curse was done, the nemesis was dead and the Sounders got a chance to move on.”
Tumult Then A Turnaround
Thiel noted that the Sounders haven't lost a game (they either won or tied) since late August. But before that, things looked grim.
"It was really a bad summer for the Sounders," he said. "There was a 10-game streak in which they only won one game. It a combination of things; they had some injuries; they had international call-ups off the roster.
"They also had to try to integrate four new international signees in the middle of the season. And they came in with some injuries and some fitness issues.
"The upshot was a really sloppy integration. The Galaxy was also vulnerable to the same thing. They added some top players as well and they struggled.
"It was two teams that had a similar path this year. But it turned out that the Sounders, with the home field advantage, really had a big edge.
"The L.A. folks really hate coming up here in the wet and the cold, especially on the turf field. They also had an extra travel leg. I think they wore out a little bit at the end.
"It all worked out in the Sounders' favor. They got rid of their bogeyman.”
Thiel noted just last week that the Sounders often "looked like strangers on the pitch" and weren't playing well as a cohesive team. But after two must-win victories, he's changing his opinion.
"It looks a lot better. They scored three goals Sunday in the regular season finale against Real Salt Lake. They got three against the Galaxy. It bodes well for the future.”