The Houston Dynamo are coming off back-to-back losses after posting its first back-to-back wins for the first time all season. In their last fixture they played the Colorado Rapids and succumbed to a 3-2 loss as mistakes in the back loomed large despite promising efforts from Dynamo forward Mauro Manotas.
In our preview of the match we outlined what’s at stake for each club, but we wanted to know about our opponents so we spoke with Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart to gain some insight about the Seattle Sounders.
Dynamo Theory: Former Seattle manager Sigi Schmid recently revealed that despite several accolades including a Supporter Shield, four Open Cup trophies, and consistent playoff appearances throughout his tenure as manager, the front office was impatient with his inability to win the MLS Cup. Do you think there is any truth to what Sigi said, and if not why do you believe he was let go?
Sounder at Heart: At the core of it there were three reasons that Sigi Schmid is no longer the coach here. He had seven years to win an MLS Cup, and did not. At some point, that was going to lead to losing his job. I was of the opinion that should be at the end of this season, but due to how poor the first half of the season went the club made the change. The other two reasons more directly relate to 2016's first half performance. First, President of Soccer and General Manager Garth Lagerwey was no longer willing to do as the Sounders had done in the past and rush into an immediate fix when Obafemi Martins left. He was patient enough that the season felt nearly over. Then came Nicolas Lodeiro, and many things improved. The third item is the perception from the outside that players had stopped listening to Sigi. One only need look back on the loss to KC to see players give up in middle of a winnable game to see how bad things were.
DT: The last time our clubs met back in August (Dynamo at 25 points and Seattle at 31) the Dynamo nearly stole one if it weren’t for a stoppage time equalizer by Nicolas Lodeiro. Since then Seattle has won 4 and drawn 1 out of its last 6 games. How has Seattle elevated its play at just the right time and what place do you see Seattle finishing in the table before the postseason begins?
SaH: The biggest factor has been Lodeiro. His leadership and ability change the Sounders. That happened at the same time that Schmetzer earned complete buy-in from the players in a system that is a simplified 4-2-3-1 with Alonso-Roldan sitting deeper. Schmetz also convinced the players that they were the key to any sort of turn around. They couldn't look to a coach or a member of the front office for credit or blame. Everything rests on the players shoulders.
Bearing that burden the players that were having down years are now having decent years. Lodeiro looks to be someone who will be an MVP candidate when healthy and Jordan Morris is the best rookie American scorer in history. The offense is still a bit weak. In run of play it is just those two that are threatening, but on set-pieces Andreas Ivanschitz' service and the numerous targets like Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Alvaro Fernandez, Brad Evans, Herculez Gomez, Nelson Haedo Valdez and Morris can produce. Together that's a competent offense. The defense is back to being awesome. It's a good team, and it may just have the opportunity to finish third.
DT: Last match between our clubs was also a midweek game with an important game on the weekend (then it was Portland and now it’s Dallas). What kind of adjustments could we see for this game ahead of the game at FCD – if any adjustments?
SaH: Head Coach Brian Schmetzer is not big on resting talent. He tends to avoid squad rotation, and that is probably a bit of why he's won so much. Joevin Jones (LB) and Oniel Fisher (RB/LB) will both miss the game due to international duty, so Seattle will be forced to use its third or fourth choice left back. Brad Evans is out with a red card so there may be some flexibility at right mid where Evans, Gomez, Fernandez, Roldan and Valdez have all played. But that's it. The spine will be what drives the team, and it will be what it has been for nearly two months.
*Projected Lineup: (4-2-3-1): Stefan Frei; Dylan Remick, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Tyrone Mears; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Andreas Ivanschitz, Nicolas Lodeiro, Alvaro Fernandez; Jordan Morris
* Ivanschitz and Fernandez could both be injured. That may lead to a less than ideal Herculez Gomez and Nelson Haedo Valdez as the wide players.
For my answers to Dave’s questions, please head over to Sounder at Heart!