For the third consecutive year, the Seattle Sounders are meeting FC Dallas in the Western Conference Semifinals.
In 2014, the Sounders advanced to the Conference Finals on away goals with a 1-1 aggregate score after both legs. Dallas ended Seattle's season in 2015 by winning a penalty-kick shootout following a 3-3 aggregate tie in the two matches.
2016, however, is a new year and the Sounders are a far different team than Dallas has seen in past playoff runs.
After 49 minutes of soccer featuring multiple close-range chances for Seattle, the Sounders illustrated just how much the squad changed from the last two years.
In eight minutes, the onslaught started, continued and concluded.
Valdez! 1-0 Seattle! pic.twitter.com/IVxLh2cJqw— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) October 31, 2016
Lodeiro taps home after a great run from Morris. 2-0 Seattle. pic.twitter.com/KfJjsJKAsL— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) October 31, 2016
Lodeiro makes it 2 on the night. 3-0 Seattle! pic.twitter.com/888Am4Wptb— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) October 31, 2016
Interim Head Coach Brian Schmetzer couldn't remember being part of a match with a flurry of goals as extreme as Sunday night.
"The second half was unbelievable," Nelson Valdez said through a translator.
Veteran forward Nelson Valdez scored the first goal in the 50th minute, his second of the season. The score came less than three days after his first, a game-winner over Sporting Kansas City.
Jordan Morris assisted on the next goal in the 55th minute, put into the net by midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, who also scored the final goal in the 58th.
"[Lodeiro] has given me a lot of assists so I was glad I could pay him back today," Morris said.
Defender Joevin Jones, still in his first year with the Sounders, played a role in all three goals, contributing assists on two and a setup pass in Lodeiro's first goal.
"[Jones] has a ton of talent," Schmetzer said. "I think you saw a good performance from him tonight. Not just because of the two assists, but all-around."
Morris echoed Schmetzer's thoughts, adding that Jones can change the dimension of a match with his attacking skills.
According to Dallas Head Coach Oscar Pareja, his squad changed their defensive model after the three Seattle goals in effort to control Jones.
If the Sounders are to move on to the Conference Finals, Jones' defending may be more important than his attacking, with a 3-0 aggregate lead going into the second leg.
The final match of the series takes place this Sunday, November 6 at 6:00 p.m. PST and will be aired on FOX Sports 1.
One year ago, the Sounders held a 2-1 lead going into the second playoff game in Dallas, which the club eventually lost. While this year's score is more lopsided, the mentality stays the same, according to Cristian Roldan.
"We have to attack just as much as defend," Roldan said. "Once we sit back, it just invites pressure for us because...they have nothing to lose."
Schmetzer made it clear that the message throughout the locker room is, "we're not done yet", a sentiment shared by multiple players afterwards.
Dallas, meanwhile, still faces an enormous uphill climb to move on in the playoffs. For the Sounders to be eliminated in regulation, they must be shutout and give up at least four goals, or lose by four or more goals if the club scores at least one goal. (Complicated, perhaps, but unlikely.)
"There is a reason why they finished the league in first place," Valdez said through a translator. "They are a good team and we can’t take anything for granted. We have to be prepared.”
Watch Schmetzer's post-match press conference plus hear from Valdez, Roldan, Morris, Lodeiro, midfielder Erik Friberg and keeper Stefan Frei below.