After pulling off a penalty-kick upset of the Portland Timbers at Providence Park to emerge victorious in Round One of the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, FC Dallas draw another Cascadia opponent in the Western Conference Semifinals, and it's a familiar foe: The No. 2 seed Seattle Sounders, who breezed through their Round One matchup against LAFC with a comprehensive 3-1 result at Lumen Field.
It sets up a rematch of the first-round bout between the sides in 2019, which was one of the wilder games of last year's postseason. FC Dallas made the Sounders work for every bit of it, coming back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to force extra time, only to concede an extra-time game-winner to Seattle's Jordan Morris in a 4-3 defeat.
Going into this year's edition of the matchup, FC Dallas head coach Luchi Gonzalez said his team is well aware that as difficult as the match in Portland was, this one stands to be even tougher.
"It turns out to be Seattle, which was well-earned last night, congrats to them," Gonzalez told reporters on his Wednesday video call. "I felt like some of their attacking talent really stepped up and they did it collectively, so we have probably our hardest game of the season. We thought Portland was going to be our hardest game, this game's going to be harder. So we know that. The bar has risen and the stakes are higher. So we need to have that mentality in our preparation now."
2019 MLS Cup Playoffs highlights: Seattle Sounders 4, FC Dallas 3
Defeats like the one Dallas endured in Seattle last year are never easy, but Gonzalez said his team can draw from the knowledge they gained in that match and apply it to next week's matchup.
That last match became a wide-open affair after Dallas conceded the first two goals, resulting in frantic, end-to-end action. While entertaining for a neutral, it's not the type of game that Dallas want to play this time around. Gonzalez said one focus will be doing what they can to ensure that doesn't happen again as they contend with Seattle's trio of MLS Best XI attackers in Morris, Nicolas Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz.
"We learned lessons last year that were hard. You can't concede four goals and go through," Gonzalez said. "You can, but it's going to be very difficult. So we need to make sure we protect our half, protect our box and our goal in a way that doesn't allow it to be such an open game. Seattle is a team that I think can hurt you on open-play counters, it can hurt you if you sit low, so we need to know when to vary our defensive blocks and read the game and make sure we get pressure on the ball and compete with them.
"Is that a high-pressing moment, is that sitting back lower? We have to do both well. It's not going to take just one or the other. We have to be able to adapt entirely to the game and to their individuals and so we have to have our best game of the season. That's for sure."
FC Dallas clearly aren't perturbed by the underdog role, as they showed against Portland. It's something that Gonzalez said his team are going to continue to embrace going into the match, knowing that there are likely to be few, if any, prognosticators picking his team to go through to the Western Conference Final.
In a postseason that has already seen its share of upset results, including one pulled off by Dallas themselves, Gonzalez said it's about maintaining that self-belief that it can be done again.
"If we weren't the clear favorites against Portland, we certainly aren't in this next one," he said. "But that's something we're going to continue to channel and embrace and it's about the given night. You saw results yesterday where higher seeds were knocked off at home. It's not easy in this playoff format without fans, with different training micro-cycles for each team, having different rhythms. Right now it's important that we know it's all about the given night and the given moment and wanting it more than the opponent and that's who's going to come out on top.
"We don't forget last year. I'm sure they don't either. So, let's try our best. ...The more people doubt us the more we're going to believe in ourselves."