The Houston Dynamo are hoping to finish out the year strong at home following a disappointing defeat to FC Dallas 2 weeks earlier. The Dynamo have been a stronger club at home than on the road, and had put together back-to-back home wins over Sporting Kansas City and the Colorado Rapids prior to their 4-1 road defeat to our in-state rivals. With playoff hopes hinging on a Dynamo win and a Portland loss, the Dynamo will fight to keep the dream alive or at least give the Dynamo fans a good show at home.
In the previous match against the Seattle Sounders, the Dynamo were still finding their feet and Owen Coyle utilized a 5 man midfield to slow the high-octane offense that Seattle possesses. The Dynamo were unable to come up with an equalizer to Obafemi Martin's 39th minute strike despite Seattle's Gonzalo Pineda seeing a red card for a hard foul on Ricardo Clark in the 56th minute. The Sounders had the lead and were content to defend deep which helped them preserve their win at CenturyLink Field.
In our preview of the match we discussed the importance of this match along with the LA Galaxy vs. Portland Timbers game, but we wanted to hear a Sounders perspective so we spoke with Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart to find out what's going on with the Seattle Sounders.
Dynamo Theory: The Dynamo have had plenty of ups and downs in a difficult debut season for Owen Coyle, but the Sounders - despite the injuries and call-ups that affected them, managed to hold onto their playoff positioning. How important is this match being treated for the Sounders given the new playoff format with the increased amount of elimination matches?
Sounder at Heart: Sigi has to take this one seriously, even if San Jose loses and Seattle gets into the MLS Cup Playoffs. The reason is their goal is the MLS Cup. With how poor the East is there's a strong shot that the 4th or 5th team from the West could host the MLS Cup Final. Managing a late surge to get the 4th spot would also mean that Sounders get to host at least one Playoff game. That could help get momentum to blow out the higher seed at home.
That's the thing about the new format, seeding is so important. Being 5th or 6th means going on the road and with a win flying home to host and then flying away. Teams with older players (Seattle, LA) must avoid that. Sigi will want points. He'll want the chance to play a Playoff game at home and even the wild outside shot of backing into the CCL.
DT: Chad Marshall has been a huge cog in the Sounder back line, but has been listed on the injury report for some time following a neck sprain suffered in practice. Could you provide an update on Marshall and discuss his importance to the Sounder's success?
SaH:Over his career he's the best CB this league has seen. Last year he managed that third Defensive Player of the Year Award while leading a team that gave up a ton of goals. This year he's the leader of the best defense in the league by goals against, and could win it again (though it would be on career rep). He will be back for the game, so you'll get to see him win headers and immediately direct an attack with that ball. Marshall is also quite good at making the tiny step that intercepts the pass so he doesn't have to worry about tackling. Most interesting is that if you throw at a horrid match that Brad Evans had against San Jose, most of Sounder at Heart's readers think that Evans has been the better central defender on the season. They pair a bit like Gonzalez/DeLaGarza, but Evans can actually play in the air. It's a partnership that will allow opposing teams to take a lot of shots from distance, but is unwilling to let them take them in close.
DT: The Sounders have not lost a league match since August. What is clicking that wasn't during the Sounder's summer woes?
SaH: It feels like cheating answering this one. What wasn't clicking was the poor lineups that had to try to make up for the lack of Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Osvaldo Alonso, Marco Pappa, Brad Evans, Stefan Frei and Chad Barrett. Each of those missed significant time during the "Dire Days" when Sounders FC managed a mere 3 points in 11 matches. Then the Sounders brought in four summer signings, got those guys healthy (except Torres then got hurt) and things are much better. Seattle's B- squad was bad, purely and truly. They failed spectacularly. No one expected them to do well, but it would have been nice to score a few more goals. That's where it hurt the most. It turns out that Clint and Oba are vital to the attack.
Projected Lineup: Frei; Gonzalez, Marshall, Evans, Mears; Ivanschitz, Friberg, Alonso, Valdez; Dempsey, Martins
There's a bit of a question about Gonzalez and Fisher (minor injury), Friberg versus Pineda could go either way, and Valdez may not be 100% which solves the Friberg/Pineda thing because Erik would move outside. Or not, Pappa or Neagle could play too.
For my answers to Dave's excellent questions hit up Sounder at Heart to check them out!