Thursday night the Sounders launch the league's second season as the Playoffs in many sports are called, but in this case it might be particularly important. Though Houston and Seattle faced off twice in League play and once in the late rounds of the US Open Cup, the teams have changed quite a bit from where they were in previous meetings. For the Open Cup that is obvious for most of us, but let's look at the regular season matches as well.
In the first match only five of the Sounders XI were used in their current roles. The tie at Houston got that number up to seven. For the Dynamo they also had issues; in the second match they only had seven of XI while in the first they also only had five.
This second season could be very much like a first week matchup as the teams are different. Look at the expected forward pairings. For Seattle the Freddyain take their speed to the top. Houston has only seen this on tape. The Houston side now has Landin and Ching still learning their pairing. While Houston's midfield is stable, Seattle has converted Nate Jaqua to a right midfielder recently.
The offense for each side is in transition, which may be why each club has issues scoring though stocked with offensive talents. The two sides are eerily similar. 38 scored v 39 scored. 322 shots v 301 shots. 126 on goal v 137 on goal. By ranking each club is quite close to each other.
It isn't just in the offensive rankings in how the clubs are similar, but also in defense. Both clubs start with an old keeper, have a solid defense mixed with young and old. Seattle uses wingbacks, while Houston has Geoff Cameron playing an upback role from the center at times. Both sides use defensive mids as well in a 4-1-3-2. Heck, even the keepers are similar.
One is the best in Canadian history and over 40. The other is the best in American history and is nearly 40.
With the similar defensive philosophies, the great keepers and the offensive turnover may make this match seem like one where a preview is difficult, but there are a few clues as to what we can expect.
A superior set-play team with traditional target forwards in Brian Ching and former USL Sounder Cam Weaver, they provide opportunity for Brad Davis to feed them from afar. They aren't limited to the set-play for their offense, with Stuart Holden playing an attacking mid, the offense can build-up through Holden or Mullan with Landin still trying to fit into the mix. While not a great team on the counter, the Orange have enough offensive punch that a four goal game is always a threat.
The ground based counter is when Seattle is at its strongest passing through 6 or more players in under 15 seconds. While this doesn't result in goals, it is the exciting brand that causes waves of shots to batter the opposing keeper. From this the Sounders wound up not just as one of the best teams at winning the corner, but also one of the best at scoring on the corner.
They have an 18% rate as corners as % of goals versus the league average of 7.53%. It gets better. The Sounders are the best at preventing goals from the corner. As a success rate the Sounders were the best as well (Climbing the Ladder notes that 4 straight Cup winners were in the top 3). Houston was third in success rate.
If this series comes to set-plays I'm going to go with Seattle.
But Thursday night, when the second season starts we should not expect to see a high scoring match. Maybe a 1-0 or 2-1 kind of night. It will be tight, and close. Freddie Ljungberg will be the best outfield player on the pitch, and hopefully the Playoffs come down like many series do. What player carries their team?
Freddie has carried the Sounders in October, this will be his last match in that month. Carry us Swede.
Wear your kit. Wear your scarf. We have to give our Full 90, for both teams will be giving 180 during this two leg series.
Houston sucks in the second half of a match at -6. Sounders are +2. Dynamo + 16 in first half, Sounders + 7
Oh, and of course Freddie Speaks on the Game