Seven Conference finals in the Houston Dynamo’s twelve years of existence. Four MLS Cup final appearances and two trophies. Apparently this history doesn’t earn much respect from Merritt Paulson, Portland Timbers owner, who after his teams semifinal loss to the Dynamo said in an interview recently that Houston’s next opponents, reigning MLS Champions Seattle Sounders, “has a pretty easy path to MLS Cup”.
Seattle has been established as a prohibitive favorite by the league’s pundits, many of whom are still disturbed that the Dynamo destroyed the cool match that so-called neutral observers expected with a Portland-Seattle Western Conference Final. But here the Dynamo are, unexpected, unwelcome and a team that just might give the Sounders a run for their money in the series that starts tomorrow night.
The two-legged series begins Tuesday, November 21 at 8:30 p.m. CST at a sold-out BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston (FS1/Fox Deportes). The second leg will be played on Thursday, November 30 in Seattle at 9:30 p.m. CST.
Can Seattle win its first ever match in Houston?
The Sounders have never won a game played in Houston (0-4-4). This will be the first time that the two teams have met in Houston for an MLS playoff however, so the records can be thrown out the window. For the record, the Dynamo have never won a match in Seattle either. The teams did meet in the 2009 Western Conference semifinals where the Dynamo drew in Seattle and then used an extra-time goal by Brian Ching in the second leg to win the series.
So it is imperative that the Dynamo score (hopefully more than once) and maintain their recent defensive stinginess to build up a healthy aggregate lead before heading to Seattle. This was the path the Dynamo followed when they defeated Sporting Kansas City and DC United in the 2012 Eastern Conference playoffs. The Dynamo got away with a scoreless draw against Portland a few weeks ago, but can’t count on a rash of injuries again to create a favorable matchup when they play the return leg in Seattle next week. Former Dynamo forward Will Bruin is certainly ready to play in Houston tomorrow after scoring 11 goals this year for the Sounders, one of which beat the Dynamo this summer in Seattle. He was quoted this week on mlssoccer.com talking about how much he would enjoy knocking Houston out of the playoffs in BBVA Compass Stadium:
“It would be great, though, to be in Seattle and knock Houston out to go to the MLS Cup. It would be awesome. I’m mentally prepping for that and going to try my best to make that happen.”
How will the International break effect both teams?
Both teams have had long breaks since the last time they played. During the break Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said that they took advantage of having Seattle Sounders 2 right next door to scrimmage with them. Dynamo defender DaMarcus Beasley, on Glenn Davis’s Soccer Matters show last week, said that they have used their deep available roster to play 11v11 games. During the break, three of Houston’s top attacking players, Alberth Elis, Rommel Quito and Boniek Garcia, traveled half-way around the world for a two-legged emotional and draining World Cup qualification series that Honduras ultimately lost in Australia. After the loss and travel, how they are integrated back into the team and their physical and emotional readiness to play will be key. The Dynamo clearly aren’t as dangerous on the attack without Elis and Quioto on the flanks. Seattle likes to send their outside backs forward frequently. Even though Joevin Jones has been playing in the left side of midfield recently, this doesn’t make things better because both his left back replacement Nouhou Tolo and the new summer signing right back Kelvin Leerdam are both very aggressive too. Elis and Quioto can put the breaks on this aggressiveness at times with their counterattack speed. Sounders DP attacker Nicolas Lodeiro traveled with Uruguay to Europe to play two friendlies, but only came on as a substitute in one of the matches. The Dynamo do not have the luxury of slowly building into this series, so all of the pressure will be on them in the first leg.
Will player availability throughout the series determine the ultimate result?
In addition to the game readiness of the three Hondurans for the Dynamo, the team has 7 players on yellow card warnings: Phillippe Senderos, Ricardo Clark, Adolfo Machado, Quioto, Elis, Alex and Boniek. Needless to say there are a number of these players who will be needed in the second leg in Seattle. Some of these yellow cards were earned for, what can be charitably described as, less-than-smart decisions in the first leg of the semifinals against Portland. The Dynamo need to remain disciplined and not get caught up in shenanigans involving the Sounders big central defenders and Texas native Clint Dempsey who has already been suspended once in the playoffs for throwing a sharp elbow against Vancouver.
Seattle will be missing forward Jordan Morris who has not played in some time. The bigger issue is the questionable status of holding midfielder Osvaldo Alonso. The Sounders are a far better team when he is on the field. If he is unable to go tomorrow night, this will make life much easier for the Houston midfield. Three key Sounders: Lodeiro, defender Roman Torres and midfielder Christian Roldan are also on yellow card warnings.
Wild Card: What type of field will we see at BBVA Compass Stadium
Hopefully better than this field that featured in a very negative way in the Portland semifinal. I would prefer to skip all of the national shaming the Dynamo received in the last match.
This will be the 5th Houston Dynamo MLS Conference Final I have had the pleasure of attending:
2006: Houston-3 Colorado-1 (Houston finished 2nd place in Western Conference regular season)
2007: Houston-2 Kansas City-0 (2nd place in Western Conference regular season)
2012: Houston-3 DC United-1—First leg of Eastern Conference Finals-Dynamo won 4-2 on aggregate (5th place in regular season)
2013: Houston-0 Sporting KC-0—First leg of Eastern Conference Finals-SKC won 2-1 on aggregate (4th place in regular season) There are exciting 0-0 games…this was not one.
2017: I have never seen the Dynamo lose a home conference final and hope that tomorrow night doesn’t end that streak.
If you are unable to watch the match tomorrow night I will be providing live highlight updates and pictures on Texas Soccer Journal Twitter (@txsoccerjournal).