After dropping the first leg of the MLS Western Conference Semifinals 3-0 at Seattle on Sunday night, FC Dallas has a Herculean task ahead if it is to advance and keep its dreams of winning the first domestic treble in Major League Soccer alive.
Now down big in the aggregate-goal series, all FCD, who earlier this season won the US Open Cup title, its first since 1997, the MLS Supporter’s Shield, given to the team finishing the regular season with the most points, a franchise first, and also recently advanced to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) international tournament, another franchise first, has to do is hold the Sounders scoreless on Sunday night and score three goals to force two 15-minute overtimes and maybe penalty kicks or score four to win outright.
And as the top seed in the MLS Playoffs, there has been considerable talk about FCD being one of the favorites to win MLS Cup, which had things gone Dallas’ way would have been at Toyota Stadium on December 10.
But now that FCD finds itself down three goals heading into the decisive second leg Sunday night in Frisco, their chances of keeping their treble dream alive are now slim, but Dallas isn’t officially eliminated from the postseason, at least not yet.
Sunday’s somewhat-surprising defeat in the Emerald City to a team FCD eliminated from the playoffs in 2015 and came close to eliminating from the 2014 postseason was largely because Dallas is without dynamic attacking midfielder Mauro Diaz, the straw which stirs a potent Dallas attack, one of the best in MLS the past two seasons, is out for the rest of the season with an Achilles injury.
Without Diaz’s vision, tenacity and ability to deliver a perfect ball to his teammates as the ultimate table setter, the Dallas attack stalled out in Seattle and now FCD is on the brink of seeing its season end about a month earlier than everyone on World Cup Way had hoped it would.
However, even if FCD fails to do the unthinkable and pull this 3-0 deficit out of the fire and find a way to advance, this season is far from a failure for revered head coach Oscar Pareja and company.
Sure, some have already started comparing them to the Texas Rangers, who had the best record in the American League and home-field advantage throughout the Major League Baseball Playoffs only to be swept in the division series by the hated Toronto Blue Jays, the latest episode of postseason disappointment for a franchise that has had its share.
Those comparisons to the Rangers do make sense on one hand because both teams finished first in the regular season only to fall short in the postseason, but there is one major difference between the Rangers’ 2016 season and the one put together by FCD.
Simply put, Dallas has already won something, two things to be exact in the Open Cup title, which ensures FCD has a spot in the 2017-18 CCL, the club’s first major trophy since 2010, when it won the Western Conference title and played in MLS Cup for the first and to date, only time in franchise history.
FCD then went out and won the Supporter’s Shield, a noteworthy achievement considering Dallas saw one of its best offensive players in Fabian Castillo bolt for Turkey in the middle of the summer and then lost Diaz to a season-ending injury in the regular-season finale.
And there are some FCD fans who won’t be all that hurt should Dallas not win MLS Cup in December and fail to complete the treble.
That’s because these people think that winning the Shield, which rewards consistent success over a long 34-game regular season, is a more noteworthy achievement than winning the playoffs, a tournament which is often won by a team that gets hot at the right time, see the team who eliminated FCD in 2015, the Portland Timbers, as a prime example of this phenomenon. It all depends on your perspective.
So, sure FCD returns to Frisco facing a huge hole in the second leg later this week, but nothing is impossible for this group, one which has shown incredible resiliency and tenacity throughout the Pareja era, which began with considerable fanfare prior to the 2014 season.
Conventional wisdom and long odds both state that Dallas won’t be able to overcome a three-goal deficit and continue their season and if that is how things play out, by no means will FC Dallas’ 2016 season be construed as anything short of a huge success.
Sure, they might fail to win the final piece of the treble, MLS Cup, but considering FCD already has three impressive accomplishments on its resume this season, no matter how things play out on Sunday night, this campaign is one fans will remember for years to come.
And who knows? Should FCD fall to Seattle on Sunday night and be eliminated from the playoffs, that will provide Pareja and his players with added motivation this offseason to not only get back to the postseason in 2017, but to this time finish the job and hoist MLS Cup for the first time.
It’s an old cliché in sports but one that usually holds true that sometimes to win, a team has to lose first. Teams keep that bitter feeling associated with their season ending short of their ultimate goal in the forefront of their collective psyche both during the offseason and during the following campaign, fuel to the fire in its purest form.
An eternal optimist, Pareja chooses to accentuate the positives with his team and in 2016, those plusses have been numerous. So, while it is a bit shocking to see FCD returning home down 0-3 to Seattle, that deficit by no means diminishes what this club has already accomplished this season, not in the least.