The myriad struggles of the Houston Dynamo's embattled backline early this season have been well-documented, but when the Dynamo travel back to BBVA Compass Stadium to play against the Seattle Sounders—a team with multiple difficulties of their own—they will have an opportunity to correct the defense's misgivings. After a well-timed bye week, they should be expected to improve upon dismal performances in many areas of the game.
The Sounders were unexpectedly the last team in MLS to earn a point this season, but they did it in style, beating the Montreal Impact at home on a late Clint Dempsey goal. They have yet to solve all their attacking issues, however, so this is an opportunity for the Dynamo to shut down a talented goal-scoring side still figuring themselves out, similar to what they did to FC Dallas a month ago.
Don't expect a 5-0 win, though. It's always a tough game against Seattle, but Houston should still be hopeful. Here's how they can pull off three points in front of a national television audience:
1. Control Clint
After experiencing some attacking setbacks in their new 4-3-3 early in the season, the Sounders pulled Clint Dempsey back into the midfield from his previous wide role and basically allowed him to go wherever he pleased. They were then able to move natural wide player Andreas Ivanschitz to the wing, theoretically releasing the Austrian to spread the field and send balls into the box. That hasn't worked just yet, but Dempsey playing in the middle has.
Teams always want to get their best player the ball as often as they can, and with Dempsey playing as their de facto number-ten, the Sounders accomplish this. Although the US-international is not a number-ten by any stretch of the word—he's at his best when playing as a second forward—he is allowed to move to all sorts of different places on the field when played as an attacking midfielder. The Sounders get more playmaking from the middle and get to play Ivanschitz in his natural position, making this tactical adjustment from Sigi Schmid a smart one.
The Dynamo, if Seattle line up like this on Sunday, will have to stop Dempsey from creating dangerous chances in the middle. While he played somewhat higher up the field last week, he still wrecked havoc in different areas, necessitating the Impact to dedicate one person on him at all times. Houston can keep him from doing too much damage by marking him out of the game.
That doesn't mean take a person out of the attack, but it's imperative that someone's on Dempsey consistently. That's hard to do, though:
He's everywhere. But Houston have to keep him out of dangerous areas as much as they possibly can, or they will continue to give up too many goals.
2. Defend the counter
Cristian Maidana should be back to full strength against Seattle after playing just over an hour in Vancouver. That's obviously great for the attack, but there is one adjustment the Dynamo have to make with him returning: How they defend the counter.
Maidana has a tendency to drift out wide and attempt to create from there. It has worked:
When he does this, it takes one central midfielder out of the middle, giving the Sounders more room to get on the counter-attack. Houston have to be wary of this.
Ricardo Clark usually is deeper in central midfield, but when he makes his late top-of-the-box runs, he is drawn out of the play as well, meaning the center-back pairing of Raul Rodriguez and David Horst have to be on high alert.
3. Finish chances
Two weeks ago, one of the main reasons the Dynamo lost was missed chances. They failed to score a goal despite 17 shots—five of which were on target—and saw a questionable penalty kick decide the outcome. In any game, this is crucial, but after what Houston did in the first three games of the year, finishing is a strength that should be built on.
The Orange's backline is still finding its footing and the Sounders attack is due for some goals, so the Dynamo have to take what they are given and put some shots past Stefan Frei.
They can't have another shot chart like this ...
... and not score a single goal.