By now you know that tonight is about three points. That is all we care about. Pretty, ugly, nervy, exciting -- who cares how we do it, as long as the Seattle Sounders leave with the playoff spot. Today's game is bookended by the first and fourth quarters of the Seahawks game, so dual-TV it like I will (literally I bring my upstairs TV down to have two TVs and stream the Sounders on one and Seahawks on the other, it's great). If you can't do that, watch the boys in Rave Green. Now, on to the team whose mining sponsor (BHP Billiton) I know more about than how coach Owen Coyle plays offense.
The Houston Dynamo offense for most of the year has run through Will Bruin, better known as a slightly richer man's Nate Jaqua. Standing at 10 feet (or 6 feet 2 inches, hard to tell for me), you'd think he'd be good in the air. Yeah, well think again. He's serviceable, but he's definitely not a lightning rod or an Eddie Johnson for crosses. Bruin is getting better this year under Coyle and seems to understand how to play forward and not tree trunk, but he still leaves a lot to be desired and Marshall/Scott/Evans (whoever is back there) should have no problem with him. Erick "Cubo" Torres, the last remaining good thing at Chivas USA last year, has been back for half of the season but has only played in 10 matches, starting two, and has missed the last couple. It's not clear if he's back with the squad or not. Assume he is and will be on the bench. He's nothing like the man who ran Chivas last year, and no one is sure why.
Coyle plays with a unique flexibility, in that he has played every formation that FIFA 16 includes with a four-man backline. Recently he's been on a 4-4-1-1 binge, but we have also seen a flat 4-5-1, a 4-2-3-1, a true 4-4-2, and a couple different 4-3-3 looks. His offense typically plays in the 4-4-1-1 that looks like a 4-2-3-1, with Giles Barnes starting up top and pulling back into the midfield to get the ball. With Brad Davis being the only attacking threat in the midfield, everyone is a defensive-first player. They truly lack two-way ability even in Ricardo Clark. Barnes is required to get the ball to have any hope of an attack. This is why they typically bunker. They have defensive wingers and mids in the center and right side of the field, with only three players able to run the attack and two late contributors in Clark and DaMarcus Beasley. At home they try not to play this way, but there's no way around it. When you lose the possession battle 45-55 to the Colorado Rapids, you know you are defensive.
DMB will play, I have no doubt about that. He'll be a little tired, but he'll play. One of the three USMNT players (at one point) on the pitch for Houston, he's tasked with being both a defensive stalwart and an offensive catalyst, allowing Brad Davis to slide inside, disappear, or just stop caring. Beasley can still do everything he needs to do, but today he is facing Tyrone Mears, the best right back in the league. Mears has taken players out of the game all year and being asked to do that to two players may seem daunting on paper, but neither have the pace or skill to be that threatening. Don't get me wrong, Brad Davis is a great crosser of the ball, but that's all he can do.
Defensively, Beasley will put in his shift and make things difficult for Lamar Neagle, Marco Pappa, Nelson Valdez, Andreas Ivanschitz, Erik Friberg, etc. coming down the right side, but any of that list should still be able to make things happen with the space DMB tends to leave while attacking. Meanwhile on the right side is Oscar Boniek Garcia, better known for his ability as a wide playmaker or a #10 than for his defensive abilities. But due to Coyle's...I have no idea why...he's playing Boniek at RB. He is more defensively suspect than Yedlin was, he's slower, and he's worse operating out right than he should be. He did get an assist, but like Davis, he's asked to cross and that's all and the Sounders are pretty good in the air. Expect his attacking ability to be neutralized and for him to leave too much space for that very same winger list. The wings will be available for the Sounders to use, they just have to take it. On a different note, Sheanon Williams, the former Union man, could get a start instead of Garcia and all the same notes apply.
In the middle of the field, who should you care about? Ricardo Clark. He was at one point considered a partner for Michael Bradley, now he's barely functional in Houston. He'll get lost tracking back. He isn't very productive going forward. He is just able to get in the way, and if you go near him he will likely slide tackle you. That's pretty much it. In the back, there's David Horst, a man you remember more for wearing forest green for the side south of us (and scoring against us on a set piece) than anything he's done in Houston. He is a set piece threat, but besides that he is awkward and slow. His partner is the pacier of the two defenders and better at getting the job done, but he's suspended for this one. There are a couple of options, but none are promising: Coyle will need to start a very young, green centerback or an out-of-place veteran like Nate Sturgis or Luis Garrido. Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins should have a field day in front of goal. The only question is: Does Tyler Deric stand on his head or do we win the day?
Sounders may not have Valdez in the starting lineup, going with Neagle instead, if Valdez isn't 90 minutes fit. Same goes for Marshall versus Scott, but I expect Marshall to be in and Valdez to sub on. Jermaine Taylor and Kofi Sarkodie are both unlikely to be in the Houston 18 due to injury as well.
Prediction: Sounders win this one 3-0 for three points and a playoff spot.