By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)
Tonight is the last of the conference semi-final matches with Dallas pitted against the Sounders in the Emerald City. It's not fair to The Hoops that many MLS supporters and pundits a like getting ahead of themselves with the assumed build for the conference finals in spotlight match up of LA versus Seattle III: the re-rematch.
It obviously lends itself for--yet another--opportunity to compare Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. Which I know everyone loves to talk about. I'm even guilty of doing this myself, e-mailing friend of the site Sean Steffen about another 'LA-Seattle' like podcast (hopefully with much, much, better audio).
But that isn't to say that the bet isn't a reasonable gamble. Right now, our prediction has the Rave Green at a 69% favorite to take it over FC Dallas. It should highlight the fact that home field advantage push is a big deal. The only team to not come away with a positive position from the first leg of the playoffs was the Columbus Crew. Outside of that every home team has either earned a draw or a win, including the play-in round.
That's not to say that it becomes a sure fire thing. Dallas has a lot of very good players that could make things relatively uncomfortable for their hosts. Blas Perez (12.32), Fabian Castilo (11.79) and rookie-of-the-year candidate Tesho Akindele (9.57) all combined for roughly 77% of Dallas' xGoals on the season. That doesn't include the likes of set piece specialist Michel (8.65) returning wunderkind Mauro Diaz (4.76) or the often forgotten designated player David Texeira (3.28). They have attacking weapons in an arsenal that is quick yet rugged.
A defense that is arguably as good as Seattle standing 1.37 expected goals against to the Sounders 1.20 that is built upon the rock (and team Captain) known as Matt Hedge. The crux of their issues, by and large, has been the goal keeping. While most would probably claim that it's been average it's what has ultimately been the difference between them and launching into the upper echelon of Major League Soccer.
Their defense has been, admittedly, spotty but according to our goal keeping metrics Raul Fernandez and Chris Seitz have performed below average. The two keepers combine for a -2 expected goals worse than what the average keeper might expect to stop. This considering the shots taken against them that were on target. Sometimes you can kind of point to the defense as being the reason for some of those goals being scored (i.e. Dan Kennedy, -11 goals worse than expected with an average shot leverage of almost .11) because if you keep giving attackers chances it's a case of when not if they start putting the goals away. However, this is not really the case as the defense as a whole allowed an average shot leverage of .0964 being launched their way. Which B-T-Dub is good for 4th best in MLS trailing (in order) the Whitecaps, Sounders and Galaxy.
Raul Ferenandez already had a big game in which he snubbed Obafemi Martins not once, but twice. The question for me is whether or not he can do it once more time. I can't imagine another scenario where the Sounders get 8 shots on goal and, considering their location, only score once. It's a dangerous game surrendering those types of looks to Dempsey and company expecting to come out on top.
However, with Seattle only picking up the one road goal, Dallas could conceivable just prepare to leave the game wide open with the attempt to run-and-gun with the Sounders. They have a fluid attack with crazy pace that has caused problems for the Rave Green this season. It's not as if Zach Scott or Leo Gonzalez are that quick and it helps explain why Seattle leads the league in attacks against (25%) their left flank.
Regardless of who comes out in front at the end of full time we can be certain that there will be goals. And considering the personnel on the pitch we can presume that there will be some fun and exciting moments too. Which, end the end, makes us all winners.