Seattle-Houston: Sounders run away with Western Conference title

Nov. 30 in Seattle
Seattle 3 Houston 0. Goals: Rodriguez 22 (Bruin), Dempsey (Jones, Rodriguez) 57, Bruin (Shipp) 73.
Att.: 45,298.
Seattle rode out a quiet opening period and after scoring with its first shot of the game efficiently dispatched Houston, 3-0, to win the Western Conference final series by a 5-0 aggregate Thursday at CenturyLink Field.

Victor Rodriguez, one of two midseason acquisitions who propelled the defending champion down the stretch, scored his first MLS playoff goal midway through the first half and 12 minutes into halftime sent Joevin Jones free down the left wing to center a ball Clint Dempsey smacked home to seal the result. Will Bruin added the third goal as a rampant Seattle ran over a Houston team reduced to 10 men by the sending-off of Tomas Martinez midway through the second half.

Seattle’s victory set up a same-teams, same-venue MLS Cup rematch of the 2016 final won by the Sounders on penalty kicks (5-4, 0-0 after 120 minutes) at BMO Field in Toronto. They square off a week from Saturday.

1. No Cubo until second half, no Quioto in Dynamo squad.

Head coach Brian Schmetzer chose to start Gustav Svensson alongside centerback Chad Marshall as a replacement for the suspended Roman Torres. Trailing in the series by two goals, Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera elected to start one forward, Mauro Manotas, and not until the second half did he summon Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres, who led Houston with 14 goals but had notched only two in his last 13 games.

An encouraging start by Houston didn’t yield a serious threat to Frei’s goal and soon Seattle began to dictate tempo by compressing midfield space. A Tomas Martinez giveaway led to a corner kick the Sounders couldn’t exploit and the first quarter-hour passed without either team generating a shot.
In the 20th minute Seattle right back Kelvin Leerdam whipped a low ball across the goalmouth that Dempsey narrowly missed tapping in, but two minutes later Rodriguez glided through the middle to collect a back-heeled return ball from Will Bruin and clip it over the charge of keeper Joe Willis.

Houston responded right away with a neat passing move of its own and from a very sharp angle Vicente Sanchez shot into the side netting. Lacking the suspended Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto -- a late scratch due to illness -- and thus deprived of its customary pace, Houston unbalanced the Sounders defense with skillful passing combinations but often lacked that decisive final pass.

2. Rodriguez-Jones-Dempsey slices open Houston defense.

Late in the first half, DaMarcus Beasley dribbled into the box and though a tackle shook the ball loose, it dropped for Martinez to fire a shot caught comfortably by Frei. Martinez shot again a few minutes later and this time Frei left his feet to snare the attempt.

Boniek Garcia replaced Eric Alexander at halftime and Frei logged another easy save when Sanchez shot from well outside the box. Fading hopes died when the Rodriguez-Jones-Dempsey connection sliced open the Dynamo defense, and Seattle tacked on a third with Bruin’s second playoff goal against his former team on a chance provided by an elegant through ball from Harry Shipp.

3. Seattle reinforcements should be back for final.

For the title game, Seattle welcomes back Torres as well as forward Jordan Morris, who came off the bench in the 76th minute to end an 11-week layoff with a hamstring injury. Captain Osvaldo Alonso, who accepted the Western Conference trophy from MLS vice-president Todd Durbin, has been rehabbing a quadriceps strain for the past two months and is also expected to be available.

Trivia. The Toronto-Seattle MLS Cup rematch will be third such pairing in league history and the second to be played at the same venue. Houston beat New England in the 2006 and 2007 finals, and the Galaxy downed the Dynamo in 2011 and 2012, which were both played at Home Depot Center.
Nov. 30 in Seattle
Seattle 3 Houston 0. Goals: Rodriguez 22 (Bruin), Dempsey (Jones, Rodriguez) 57, Bruin (Shipp) 73.
Seattle -- Frei; Leerdam, Svensson, Marshall, Nouhou (Shipp 68), Jones (Morris, 76), Roldan, Rodriguez, Lodeiro, Dempsey (Delem, 59), Bruin.
Houston -- Willis; Remick, Machado, Leonardo, Beasley, Alexander (Boniek Garcia, 46), Cabezas, Sanchez (Torres, 62), Alex (Clark, 78), Martinez, Manotas.
Red card: Martinez 66.
Att.: 45,298.

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