Analysis: Seattle, Houston, and Columbus deserving Game 3 winners
November 13, 2023
THE FIRST round of the 2023 MLS Playoffs are now over after three series were concluded with decisive third games and in the end, the home teams each advanced to conclude a first round where there was just one upset.
Here are my thoughts on each of the three games.
Seattle Sounders 1-0 FC Dallas
Two things are true in this game. Seattle played very well and used their experience to their advantage. They had poise and new what to expect in a winner-take-all game. On the other hand, FC Dallas was very poor and was rattled from the opening kickoff. It was a “deer in the headlights” performance.
They were lucky that Seattle only managed to score one goal in this game. It seemed as if Dallas’s strategy was to bunker for a shootout and hope for the best. Even after Albert Rusnak’s goal in the 36th minute, Dallas was pinned back in their own half most of the time. Seattle had the edge in shots 16-1.
"Sixteen clean sheets, including the playoffs," Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer said. "Super talented goalkeeper. Team defending, is what I would say. Team defending. Because even at the end there, everybody was scrapping."
The takeaways from this series were obvious. Seattle might be an older team, but they are still good, they play well at home, and they know how to use their experience to their advantage. LAFC will be another test at a different level. But Seattle is arguably playing better than their counterparts from Southern California. This has been a good rivalry over the last several years, and this should be another good chapter. Can Seattle's biggest strength, its team defense, stop an offensive team who has Denis Bouanga, the leading scorer in the league?
I really can't get over what a great pass this is by João Paulo, he cuts out six defenders and weights it so perfectly for Rusnák to run onto it without give Paes any ability to come out. https://t.co/Crc3BsqexO pic.twitter.com/Sd3lCLRqhJ— Jeremiah Oshan (@JeremiahOshan) November 11, 2023
As for Dallas, they are a good team with a good front three, and a respectable playoff team. On the other hand, they are still far from being a contender. Seattle was a reminder that the gap between Dallas right now and where they want to be is wide. Moving forward with this group, experience will help but they also need an upgrade in talent in a few areas of the field.
Houston 1-1 Real Salt Lake
(Houston wins on penalties)
This was the only dramatic playoff series of the first round. Houston came into this series as the clear favorite and Houston was the better team over the three legs from the run of play. But credit to Real Salt Lake as they were resilient and played Houston extremely hard. That reflected well of Pablo Mastroeni.
There were a lot of takeaways from this series. The first is that Houston is very good, and Hector Herrera is one of the league’s best players. In the opening goal, Herrera’s movement was perfect. He swung a ball from the right side, and then made a run into the box to get into position to receive a cross in a dangerous area. He then headed back to Cory Baird for a tap-in. His instincts on the play were on another level.
Herrera’s movement on this goal is terrific. He sends the initial ball in from the right side. Then he gets into position for the ball in from the left side, heads it down to Baird for the assist. He’s been so good.— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) November 12, 2023
Dynamo looking in good shape pic.twitter.com/81lMpNvZ31
But then it was another attempt at a shootout, after losing Game 2 on penalties. This time, it was Steve Clark rising and Real Salt Lake breakout youngster Diego Luna.
Even though Luna missed his penalty attempt and it cost RSL dearly, the team would not have even been at this point without him. Luna equalized this game to force the shootout. He also drilled the winning penalty in Game 2, scored in Game 1 and had goals in the final two games to seal RSL’s playoff berth.
Luna has been a big-time player for RSL and has shown up at important moments.
As for Houston, everyone knows about Herrera, Bassi, and Artur in the midfield as the team’s strength. But how about Griffin Dorsey. He has been one of the more underrated players among the playoff teams. The converted right back in this game drilled the winning penalty, was 5/5 on dribbles, had six passes into the final third, was 10/13 in ground duels, and had three shots.
It’s another step forward for Ben Olsen after winning the Open Cup, he now has Houston into the second round in a game they will host.
Columbus Crew 4-2 Atlanta
After losing Game 2 in Atlanta, Columbus returned home to Game 3 and was immediately on the front foot and jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first half with some very impressive individual goals.
A big takeaway is that while Atlanta scored two nice goals, they were sloppy with the ball and their transition defense was poor. This made was a deadly combination as whenever they had a turnover, they were punished. Columbus had a top attack with Cucho Hernandez, who is one of the top forwards in the league.
This is a hell of a strike from Danish centerback Malte Amundsen. Crew have come out flying. Atlanta is deep trouble pic.twitter.com/Jt6KCiLAp6— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) November 13, 2023
Atlanta has strong firepower but was never able to put it together this season. There were defensive problems and there were times they just couldn’t hold possession – especially on the road. They have a foundation, but taking the next steps will be tough given how much they’ve spent in the attack.
As for Columbus, they look like contenders. They have effective quality players in the designated player range, and they are all in form. The matchup against Orlando should be a very entertaining game but Columbus has the talent to win.
Meanwhile, Aidan Morris has looked great this playoff run.
Aidan Morris raw # for Columbus in a 4-2 win over Atlanta— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) November 13, 2023
4/4 long balls
2 chances created
9 passes into final third
7/10 ground duels won
Another good performance