FRISCO, Texas – A second-half collapse in Leg 1 of an Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinal can have many ramifications for a team.
After squandering a first-half lead and losing 2-1 in Seattle over the weekend, FC Dallas now have to win Sunday's return leg (7:30 pm ET; FS1 in US, TSN1 in Canada) and ensure that the victory includes the proper goal differential to advance past the Sounders, instead of being able to game-plan for a draw with slightly less pressure.
But despite the increased difficulty to advance, FCD aren't fazed in the slightest, and in fact feel they control their own destiny.
“I think this year we’re in the driver’s seat,” defender Matt Hedges told MLSsoccer.com. “Last year we had to go to Seattle and get a result, but this year we’re coming home for a result. We’re one of the best teams in the league at home … we’ll take that.”
In last year’s Western Conference semifinals, Dallas traveled to CenturyLink Field for the second leg with a similar situation, needing a win or a distinct road-goal advantage to advance past the Sounders after a 1-1 draw at Toyota Stadium.
On paper, the mountain is slightly steeper this go-round. FCD need a shutout win or multi-goal victory to advance on aggregate, while a 2-1 win would send the teams into extra time. Even a 3-2 win would end Dallas' season, given the impact of the away-goals rule.
Regardless of the specific scenarios needed to win, the squad says the approach for Sunday’s match is no different.
“Even if the game ties at 1-1, we’re coming home with the idea that we have to win,” defender Ryan Hollingshead told MLSsoccer.com. “We’re not trying to play the road goals rule and try to tie 0-0. The whole time we’re thinking we’re coming home to Frisco to win a soccer game. So nothing’s changed."
The trip back home is a welcome one for Dallas, who sport an MLS-best 13-2-2 record at Toyota Stadium in 2015. Hedges pointed to multiple factors in Dallas’ advantage at home, including the grueling Texas heat during the summer and the large playing field, which received a makeover over the summer.
The one common denominator everyone on the team credits their stellar home record: the passion of the fan base in Frisco.
“We have guys on our team that really feed off that home crowd,” Hollingshead said. “We have guys that kind of get that extra push of adrenaline or make that extra run because of the crowd being behind them. I think those things play into it, but we definitely have a team that flows off the crowd.”
Head coach Oscar Pareja took it to another level, saying FCD’s home-field advantage is indicative of growth in the league’s popularity.
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“I think Major League Soccer is changing in that aspect,” Pareja said. “I think the home advantage is now more than before, and we feel it. I think the engagement with the fans and our own atmosphere here just gives us a push.”
Even though Dallas have only won once in their last seven contests vs. Seattle, there’s no fear. Many Dallas coaches and players feel they played as well as, if not better, than the Sounders in the opening leg.
The club earnestly wants to avoid failing to advance in front of their home fans, especially given the fact they posted a franchise-best regular-season record with 60 points – good enough to earn the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. That said, Hollingshead said FCD still have plenty to prove.
“We feel that for FC Dallas to take the next step, we need to start putting together playoff runs, which this team really hasn’t been able to do,” Hollingshead said. “Even the last couple of years, we’re in the playoffs but out in the first or second round. We want to be a team that can put together a good playoff run, and we think this is the year to do it.”