It’s game day (finally) and MLS is back in action! The Houston Dynamo are hoping to prove last season was a fluke as they look to avoid a fourth consecutive season where the club misses the playoffs. They have some momentum as the new look team won the preseason tournament the Desert Diamond Cup. I’m cautiously optimistic about this team as I’ve been impressed with just about everything I’ve seen in preseason. But that’s preseason and this is the real deal and in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, every win over another West opponent means that much more.
In our preview of the match we talked about the team and the home opener record, but we wanted to know a bit more about the Seattle Sounders and how they’ve fared this offseason so we caught up with Dave Clark at Sounder at Heart for some insight about the club.
Dynamo Theory: Will Bruin has been a huge part of the Houston Dynamo the last 6 years, but now he’s a part of the reigning MLS Cup Champs, the Seattle Sounders. How has he looked in preseason and how is he going to fit into this Sounder team?
Sounder at Heart: Bruin looks to be the first attacker off the bench, at least early in the season. He gives Seattle the opportunity to rest Morris, or push Morris into midfied, or to switch up to a 4--4-2. In preseason he had the only goal among possible starters. What really stood out was a conversation between Clint Dempsey and Bruin where Clint told Will "I'm going to pass to your feet." The Sounders are not going to change their offensive system for Bruin. He'll have fewer opportunities for headed goals since neither wide mid crosses the ball. He could rack up a ton of assists though, as Dempsey and Lodeiro ping the ball off of him and then run into space. If he can slip them the ball in those situations he will thrive.
DT: The Sounders finished 4th in the West, but went through the knockout round and eventually won the MLS Cup. What will it take to take the Sounders to the next level and compete for a Supporter’s Shield?
SaH: Health of Clint Dempsey and behaving as they did when Brian Schmetzer took over as coach. In the final half of 2016 they only had America's greatest outfield player for four games. They still went 12-3-5 in the regular season and playoffs to end the year. On top of that they replaced the statistically ineffective Nelson Valdez with Bruin, the aging Andreas Ivanschitz with Harry Shipp, and a gob of old guys with Homegrown Players. They are more likely to be healthy and energetic late in the season, and have the flexibility to rest Dempsey at times.
DT: A full season of Nicolas Lodeiro is a scary thought for most opposing teams. What are the expectations for him this season? MVP candidate?
SaH: I'm drooooooling thinking about this. Lodeiro looked every bit the part of potential MVP. He had eight goals and eight assists in his 19 competitive matches, four of those goals were in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Nico is capable of carrying a team from bad to amazing and now the squad is being built around his abilities. He will also have Dempsey rather than Valdez. There is every reason to think that Nico collects 20+ assists, a magical number in MLS. There's a potential for 12+ goals on top of that. In my mind that's an MVP candidate. Klejstan was an MVP candidate with 6/20. Lodeiro is to Klejstan as a demi-god is to a commoner with a club.
(4-2-3-1): Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Gustav Svensson; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Alvaro Fernandez, Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro; Jordan Morris
For my answers to Dave’s excellent questions, check them out at Sounder at Heart!