The Houston Dynamo finally achieved their first road win of the year with a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes and are hoping to get their first winning streak of the year with a win over the suddenly surging Seattle Sounders.
In our preview of the match we discussed the impact of certain players and the absence of others, but we wanted to know more about our opponents so we spoke with Dave Clark at Sounder at Heart to understand more about the sudden success of his club.
Dynamo Theory: The Sounders have really turned things around since Sigi Schmid’s departure. What has been the driving force behind the Sounder’s recent turn of fortune?
Sounder at Heart: This is the biggest question in the SounderSphere. There are a lot of factors, some which have little to do with head coach Brian Schmetzer and Designated Player Nicolas Lodeiro. The biggest of those is "new coach effect." There is a stereotypical bounce from that, as players realize their jobs are in danger too.
Not to get too listy, but there are a bunch of things going right currently. Brian Schmetzer has the Sounders playing a clean, crisp, simple version of soccer that maximizes freedom for Clint Dempsey and Lodeiro. Clint Dempsey is playing at the level he did at Copa America. That's an MVP caliber player, who could be short-listed for the player of the month. Nicolas Lodeiro could also be on that list. He's a DP in rare MLS air. On the young side of peak age, Uruguay and formerly Boca Juniors number 10 is following in the footsteps of Guillermo Barros-Schelotto. Tyrone Mears, Andreas Ivanschitz both look rejuvenated.
Remember, during preseason, even after the loss of Obafemi Martins people still pegged this as a playoff team. They are now playing like it while also adding an MVP level talent.
DT: Seattle plays Houston in a midweek game, but then travels to Portland to take on the Timbers on Sunday. Which game is it more important to win from a Sounder perspective? Will interim manager Brian Schmetzer rest some players in the Dynamo match in order to prioritize the Timbers game given their place in the standings?
SaH: Beating Portland will mean more. It isn't because of the rivalry, although that's significant. It is because by beating Portland the Sounders would swap places with them in the standings and gain control of the red line. Beating Houston puts Seattle into sixth, which is good, but then the Timbers could just grab it back. Swapping the order of a "just three points" scenario makes it rather clear which means more.
Now, if Schmetzer can nap 4 points, or a fantastical 6, from this double-game week than the playoff dream becomes reality.
DT: Despite holding the attacking talents of Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, and Herculez Gomez, the Sounders are one of the poorest finishing teams in the league. Is it regression, less support, or less creativity? How will summer acquisition designated player Nicolas Loderio help remedy this finishing woes?
SaH: The finishing issues come down to two things. The first was simply that before Lodeiro too many of the shots were in poor positions. Whether they were rushed, from distance or through traffic they were forced. That meant that they took a lot of shots, but most were ineffective. That meant that they were dramatically underperforming measures like expected Goals.
Jordan Morris is the other issue. Oddly, in the early season, he was finishing right on par with xG. But starting in the LA draw (when nearly all of the 2.17 xG-G was due to Morris) he's been bad at finishing - not average, bad. He knows he needs to work on it. It may be because he's now at the limit of competitive matches played since he was a high school senior in the Academy. Now, he's only at -2.36 so it isn't all on him.
Herculez Gomez is a shadow of the USMNT hero he was. Nelson Haedo Valdez used to be Paraguay's best attacker. Both are now great effort guys who will supply defense up top or out wide, but cannot be counted on to score.
Seattle's offense is back to being average to good, but if one of Morris, Herc or Valdez get going at even league average scoring rates this thing will be a beast.
Projected Lineup: Stefan Frei; Dylan Remick, Roman Torres, Brad Evans, Tyrone Mears; Osvaldo Alonso, Erik Friberg; Alvaro Fernandez, Nicolas Lodeiro, Cristian Roldan; Nelson Haedo Valdez
For my answers to Dave’s questions please check them out at Sounder at Heart!