Playoff comeback by FC Dallas makes for a "magical night in Frisco" vs. Seattle Sounders

FRISCO, Texas – One week ago, the final 10 minutes proved heartbreaking for FC Dallas. They barely missed out on a road draw against Western Conference Semifinal opponents Seattle Sounders, succumbing to a late Clint Dempsey free kick goal.

But at Toyota Stadium on Sunday night, the hosts proved resilient in the final 10 minutes of regulation, scoring twice while facing elimination and holding on to force penalty kicks to extend the FC Dallas season to the Western Conference Championship via a 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders.

“The game gave a reward to the best team on the field,” head coach Oscar Pareja said. “Tonight was a magical night in Frisco.”

For 80-plus minutes, Dallas had nothing to show for looking like what Pareja believed to be the best team on the field. The hosts created chance after chance in just about every way imaginable: winning battles down the flanks, setting up crosses to the middle of the field, and generating a handful of corners and free kicks. But they still entered the final stretch in a scoreless tie, which would have allowed Seattle to advance.

When Pareja emptied his bench however, the narrative changed. Late substitute Tesho Akindele looked to be the hero after sending in a header in the 84th minute from a Je-Vaughn Watson cross and sending fans at Toyota Stadium into a frenzy – something Akindele has done more than once this season.

“All of us are thinking: ‘That’s it. They haven’t been attacking us at all. They haven’t had a serious chance on goal. We’re good,’” said defender Ryan Hollingshead, describing the Akindele goal. “Then they score and we’re thinking, ‘We’ve got five minutes left in our season.’ We’re putting everything into it that we have.”

But the atmosphere went from elation to deflation once the 90th minute struck, as Seattle's Chad Marshall matched Akindele’s feat by heading in a corner from Marco Pappa.

FC Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman, who entered the game alongside Akindele, responded to Pareja’s call from the bench immediately after the equalizer. He connected on a header of his own in stoppage time to force extra time – something Akindele thought wasn’t even possible when he entered the game.

To call staring at elimination, to advancing, to elimination, to extra time in a matter of minutes a bumpy ride for the hosts would be an understatement.

“When we scored, I thought we were going to win. When they scored, I thought this was the worst thing in the world. And then we scored again, and it was the best thing in the world. It was a huge roller coaster,” Akindele said. “We knew we were going to get another chance or two, so we knew we had to be ready for that chance, ready to make it count. Luckily, Walker made it count.”

The narrative from early in the game came back in the extra time, as Dallas created chance after chance to take the lead again. But after failing to capitalize once, leaving fans gasping time and time again, the emotions remained on edge entering the penalty-kick shootout.

Two penalty kick saves from 20-year-old FC Dallas ‘keeper Jesse Gonzalez, in just his 13th career start, lifted FCD to their loftiest heights since 2010 – the last time they advanced to the Western Conference Championship.

“That’s the mentality of our team,” Zimmerman said. “It’s, ‘Never give up. Fight until the final whistle.’ And even though they got that late goal, I don’t think there was anyone on our team going, ‘This is done. We’re about to lose to Seattle again.’ It was, ‘Let’s score. Let’s win this game. Let’s move on.’”

While the way FC Dallas won may have seemed improbable, Pareja and company claimed it wasn’t a surprise to see the young team respond the way they did, especially given last week’s late collapse in Seattle.

Regardless, it’s the resiliency FC Dallas showed that the club hopes is something it can hang its hat on heading into the next round of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs.

“It’s been like that all year with this group,” Pareja said. “We have bounced back from difficult moments during the season. We all want consistency, and it’s very difficult to get it. But tonight the game was a good example of what we’ve done this year. We keep believing.”