ESPN flexed into this contest between Seattle Sounders FC and the Houston Dynamo. Seattle is gets strong ratings and the Dynamo still have a tiny chance at making the Playoffs. Their stadium should be a good host for the 2 PM match. UPDATE: Sunday’s match has been moved from ESPN to ESPN2.
Houston is transitioning to a post-Kinnear existence. It's been rough, as they sit at 11-13-8 -4 heading into the final two weeks of the season. They could make the Playoffs, but it's unlikely. The Sounders are a much stronger chance, and could even dream of finishing as high as 2nd in the West. That's all because they recovered from the Dire Days by going undefeated in six matches. Now at 14-13-5 +6 there is hope.
Derek from DynamoTheory answers Three Questions.
SaH: Can Run DMB run after his USMNT service?
DT: It's always about health with DaMarcus Beasley. When he's healthy, his age won't stop him from playing in a double game week even if he's coming off an injury as shown in his appearance against Sporting Kansas City and the Colorado Rapids last month where he went the full 90 in each match. If he's ready to go for Owen Coyle, I'd expect him to start unless Coyle is ready to mix things up and rest DMB now that the Dynamo are officially eliminated from playoff contention.
SaH: Houston's scored more goals than the Sounders, but only have one clear scorer. Is the offense all about system?
DT: It's difficult to say honestly. The Dynamo have had plenty of goal scorers with Will Bruin netting 11 and Giles Barnes and Ricardo Clark each grabbing 7, but mostly it's come down to players being in the right place at the right time.
The Dynamo "system" has changed many times this year. For instance, the previous time the Dynamo faced off against the Sounders we utilized a 5 man midfield and lately have used 2 forwards. Will Bruin, who was not in the starting lineup that game and is currently our leading goal scorer, has embraced the coaching change this season and has improved various facets of his game. Specifically he's become better at making runs off the ball which has created space for him to score when the service is there.
I'm hesitant to say it's our system that promotes goal scoring, especially when we've been so poor at finishing on the road and that we've changed our formation and rotated our personnel so often, but we score at home often and our service is rarely off thanks to players like Brad Davis.
SaH: You've gotten to know Owen Coyle over a season now. What do you think of how he's adapted to the league?
DT: So far he's done about as much as one could have hoped coming in. The squad he was given is older and one that lost out on the playoffs the previous year. On top of that he has had to deal with a plethora of injuries to starting caliber players and loads of international call-ups (which in some cases led to injuries). Coyle has shown a tremendous amount of respect for the league and an ability to adapt his personnel and lineup to account for different opponents or fluctuations in health or player availability. This hasn't been the dream start to Coyle's career with the Dynamo, but all things considered it hasn't been a disaster and leaves plenty for him and his coaching staff to build on.
Projected Lineup: Deric; Beasley, Rodriguez, Horst, Williams; Davis, Clark, Alex Lima, Boniek; Barnes, Bruin
DT: The Dynamo have had plenty of ups and downs in a difficult debut season for Owen Coyle, but the Sounders - despite the injuries and call-ups that affected them, managed to hold onto their playoff positioning. How important is this match being treated for the Sounders given the new playoff format with the increased amount of elimination matches?
SaH: Sigi has to take this one seriously, even if San Jose loses and Seattle gets into the MLS Cup Playoffs. The reason is their goal is the MLS Cup. With how poor the East is there's a strong shot that the 4th or 5th team from the West could host the MLS Cup Final. Managing a late surge to get the 4th spot would also mean that Sounders get to host at least one Playoff game. That could help get momentum to blow out the higher seed at home.
That's the thing about the new format, seeding is so important. Being 5th or 6th means going on the road and with a win flying home to host and then flying away. Teams with older players (Seattle, LA) must avoid that. Sigi will want points. He'll want the chance to play a Playoff game at home and even the wild outside shot of backing into the CCL.
DT: Chad Marshall has been a huge cog in the Sounder back line, but has been listed on the injury report for some time following a neck sprain suffered in practice. Could you provide an update on Marshall and discuss his importance to the Sounder's success?
SaH: Over his career he's the best CB this league has seen. Last year he managed that third Defensive Player of the Year Award while leading a team that gave up a ton of goals. This year he's the leader of the best defense in the league by goals against, and could win it again (though it would be on career rep). He will be back for the game, so you'll get to see him win headers and immediately direct an attack with that ball. Marshall is also quite good at making the tiny step that intercepts the pass so he doesn't have to worry about tackling. Most interesting is that if you throw at a horrid match that Brad Evans had against San Jose, most of Sounder at Heart's readers think that Evans has been the better central defender on the season. They pair a bit like Gonzalez/DeLaGarza, but Evans can actually play in the air. It's a partnership that will allow opposing teams to take a lot of shots from distance, but is unwilling to let them take them in close.
DT: The Sounders have not lost a league match since August. What is clicking that wasn't during the Sounder's summer woes?
SaH: It feels like cheating answering this one. What wasn't clicking was the poor lineups that had to try to make up for the lack of Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Osvaldo Alonso, Marco Pappa, Brad Evans, Stefan Frei and Chad Barrett. Each of those missed significant time during the "Dire Days" when Sounders FC managed a mere 3 points in 11 matches. Then the Sounders brought in four Summer signings, got those guys healthy (except Torres then got hurt) and things are much better. Seattle's B- squad was bad, purely and truly. They failed spectacularly. No one expected them to do well, but it would have been nice to score a few more goals. That's where it hurt the most. It turns out that Clint and Oba are vital to the attack.
Projected Lineup: Frei; Gonzalez, Marshall, Evans, Mears; Ivanschitz, Friberg, Alonso, Valdez; Dempsey, Martins
There's a bit of a question about Gonzalez and Fisher (minor injury), Friberg versus Pineda could go either way, and Valdez may not be 100% which solves the Friberg/Pineda thing because Erik would move outside. Or not, Pappa or Neagle could play too.