Photo by Brad Smith/ISIphotos.com
By LEE PRINDLE
SEATTLE – Since losing star playmaker Mauro Diaz to a knee injury, FC Dallas has struggled in back-to-back losses and Diaz’ absence has played a major role in those defeats.
The club’s offense, so reliant on Diaz’s technique on the ball as well as his passing and vision, hit a creative wall after his forced 45th-minute substitution two weeks ago against D.C. United.
Despite taking an early lead through Michel’s penalty on Wednesday night, FC Dallas’ offensive impotence continued as they fell, 2-1, to the Sounders for their third straight loss.
The Hoops began the season as the hottest team in the league, taking sole possession of first place with a 5-1-1 record before stumbling in recent weeks. Now, with Diaz set to miss 6-10 weeks after knee surgery, his team’s prospects have dimmed.
With their third game in six days coming up on Saturday, FC Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja was forced to rotate the squad against the Sounders. Still, it was clear they were missing Diaz.
“We play with the players that belong to the team and they had a game three days ago and now we have another game in three days,” said Pareja. “That’s the way the schedule was set and so we play with the boys that are healthy and the boys that can come in and do the job.”
Play throughout the match was quite physical, particularly in the first half, and head referee Baldomero Toledo was not shy about blowing his whistle or handing out yellow cards.
Seattle midfielder Brad Evans provided cover at left back for incumbents Leo Gonzalez and Dylan Remick, both struggling with injuries. His evening got off to a poor start as he was whistled for a foul in the box after a tangle of legs with Blas Perez. Michel coolly dispatched the spot kick, leaving Stefan Frei rooted in the center of the goal and giving FC Dallas a surprising 1-0 lead. The goal was Michel’s fourth in four games against Seattle.
After taking the early lead, Dallas’ defense sat back and absorbed pressure as the Sounders continued to push forward in numbers. Seattle controlled the run of play and had several opportunities, both through the run of play and on set pieces, but Dallas did well to stay compact and organized, with Raul Fernandez doing his job when called upon.
“We knew they were going to push, they’re at home,” said Andrew Jacobson, “We were in a good position going into the second half but we knew they were going to push. They have a lot of talented guys and it was no surprise.”
Dallas clogged the middle, forcing Seattle’s expensive attack to stretch to the sidelines in search of opportunities, where they were resigned to sending hopeful crosses into the box. The tall centerback tandem of Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman were on hand to snuff out the danger, gobbling up any aerial threats and keeping a close watch on Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins.
Dallas made it to halftime with a 1-0 lead.
“We wanted to keep our good shape and see if we could play through their lines,” said Jacobson. “They attacked us very well but the guys fought hard, but we just couldn’t close out those last few minutes.”
Their defense eventually succumbed to Seattle’s offensive onslaught, as Lamar Neagle flicked a Martins cross into the top of the net in the 63rd minute to tie the game.
Seattle continued pressing and had several chances, and would have pulled ahead in the 68th minute if not for some incredible goalkeeping from Raul Fernandez. He sprawled to deflect a grasscutter from Osvaldo Alonso off the post, and Clint Dempsey looked to have an open goal on the rebound before his tap in was miraculously blocked by Fernandez’ leg.
It appeared that FC Dallas had done all the necessary work to secure an away point in a difficult environment but Seattle, as they have done multiple times this season, found a late goal and Martins was again the creator.
In the 88th minute, Martins received the ball with his back to goal and did well to shield it. He turned Hedges and dribbled past Zach Loyd before squaring the ball across the goalmouth, where substitute Kenny Cooper was waiting for the tap-in.
“We knew that Seattle was going to throw bodies up front,” said Pareja, “We defended well and tried to keep the resolve that we had at the moment. We deserved more but that’s the game.”
Hedges came close to leveling the score on the last play of the game, but his 95th-minute open header looped over the crossbar.
Dallas ultimately finished the game with seven shots compared to Seattle’s 19. While their defense played well for 60 minutes before succumbing to Seattle’s attacking trident, their offense was not the threat that Pareja would have hoped for.
In a game in which Seattle pressed hard and sent numbers forward, Diaz would have helped tremendously in easing the pressure on the defense by holding the ball and connecting the defense to the attack. He is scheduled to be out for at least another month-and-a-half after undergoing an operation for his knee injury, and Dallas will be hoping that Danny Garcia can continue to improve in each game.
FC Dallas will attempt to return to their early-season form on Saturday as they travel to Buck Shaw Stadium to face the San Jose Earthquakes.