Photo courtesy of Seattle Sounders FC
“It’s a tough place to go,” said Sounders defender Chad Marshall. “The grass is different, they play this different style, so if you’re not ready going to their
place they can get on you early and it’s tough to come back.
“We were fortunate last year to get super late goals, so we have had success scoring there. It’s just about keeping them off the board and hopefully poaching one there and being able to come home and doing what we did last series.”
In the last series –- the conference semifinals against Northwest rival Vancouver -– Seattle stifled the ‘Caps at BC. Place, 0-0, in game one and rode two Clint Dempsey goals to an 2-0 aggregate victory. Houston has traveled a longer path: it dispatched Sporting Kansas City in the Knockout Round, 1-0, and topped Portland in “reverse fashion” with a 0-0 tie at BBVA and an impressive 2-1 victory at imposing Providence Park.
/p> Note that in these team’s five playoff games a grand total of six goals has been scored and in all but one game at least one team has been shut out. Houston is best
known for a high-powered attack that netted 57 goals – fifth-most in MLS – but head coach Wilmer Cabrera has recently shored up the defense. In seven games (including playoffs)
since a 3-3 tie with the Galaxy Sept. 27, the Dynamo has conceded just three goals.
A more resilient defense hasn’t blunted Houston’s counterattacking edge. Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis can scorch just about anyone on the break and either take chances themselves or serve them up for Mauro Manotas and Erick “Cubo” Torres. Wherever the ball turns over, the Sounders need to be wary of what happens next.
“You have to do it as a whole group, as a whole team,” Sounders defender Kelvin Leerdam said. “Be good on the ball, be good in possession and have your organization always in the right spot. When you lose the ball, you have to know where their attackers are. You need to put pressure on the ball directly so they cannot play a perfect pass. If you give them time to look, then we’re going to have a tough time.”
Injuries and the suspension of goalkeeper Tyler Deric haven't disrupted the Dynamo’s defending. Panamanian Adolfo Machado has toggled between centerback and right back to adjust for injuries befalling A.J. DeLaGarza and Leonardo, and former league pool goalkeeper Joe Willis logged three saves in Deric’s place against the Timbers Sept. 5. Deric posted four consecutive shutouts prior to his suspension, which will run as the legal process plays out.
“I think everyone on the team is pretty excited, I think that this entire season we’ve been a little overlooked and I think especially the past few weeks we’ve proved our worth,” Willis said.
Impossible to predict are the effects of long layoffs. The Sounders return to competitive play 19 days after downing Vancouver, the Dynamo is on a 16-day break. Honduran internationals Elis, Quioto and Boniek Garcia traveled home and then to Australia for a World Cup playoff series won by the Aussies, 3-1, on aggregate. Seattle is also monitoring the fitness of forward Jordan Morris (strained hamstring) and midfielder Ozzie Alonso (strained quad). As of Friday, Morris was listed as out and Alonso was questionable.
When the teams last met in early June, former Dynamo Will Bruin scored the only goal. It was his fourth goal en route to a season total of 11 that ranked below only Dempsey (12) on the team scoring ladder. (Team assist leader Nicolas Lodeiro (12), scored seven). Bruin netted 50 goals during his first six pro seasons (2011-16) in Houston before being traded in exchange for allocation money. He's brought to the front line a focal point for Lodeiro's passing and Dempsey's mazy runs.
Said Bruin of perhaps tallying against his former team, again, “I’m mentally prepping for that and going to try my best to make that happen. There will be no better feeling for me than to score for Seattle in BBVA.”