In what’s been marathon ending with a steep climb the Seattle Sounders can finally see the finish line. The MLS Cup Playoffs are in sight. One more win is all it takes. Wednesday night (7:30 PM Pacific, JOEtv/ROOT Sports) against the Houston Dynamo the Sounders can qualify for another marathon - the second season.
Head Coach Brian Schmetzer will lack of a few of his better options. Clint Dempsey will be out for the rest of 2016. Joevin Jones and Oniel Fisher are playing in Caribbean Cup Qualifiers on Tuesday so are unlikely to be more than just late subs, if anything. Alvaro Fernandez left in the 9th minute against Vancouver. He is probably out. Andreas Ivanschitz did not start against the Whitecaps, so he may still be out. Brad Evans will be out serving his red card suspension.
Gribbs from Dynamo Theory answers Three Questions before this key game.
SaH: What will the Dynamo look to learn in their last few games now that they are eliminated?
DT: The last few games are incredibly important, but probably most important for Wade Barrett. The interim manager that took over for Owen Coyle earlier this year has turned a defense that was the 7th worst in goals conceded into the 7th best in the league during his time. Where Barrett has struggled is how he’s incorporated the offense, but he’s recently been building that. While I don’t expect too much change in terms of personnel or tactics, I expect growth from each game. One way that the team has expanded in that area is in its incorporation of homegrown product Jose Escalante who has provided a spark off the bench. The team, and Barrett, can learn how to protect leads, respond to goal deficits, and play more balanced soccer.
SaH: With no Barnes or Torres who can Houston count on in the attack? Will they be the focus for 2017?
DT: Mauro Manotas is the answer to Houston’s scoring woes. While I wish we would allow him to play in a striking partnership with someone like Will Bruin who can provide strength and hold-up play (areas that Manotas needs to improve in), Manotas has come alive scoring 6 goals in the last 5 games. Surely he is the player to work the offense around and the team can focus on how it can support him better next season.
SaH: Who will Dynamo be without due to the international break?
DT: At this time there aren’t any players scheduled to miss out due to the international break. The Dynamo have a game this weekend against the LA Galaxy which may cause interim manager Wade Barrett to test some of his depth (and youth) given the playoffs for the Dynamo are now a mathematical impossibility. That could mean a different center back pairing (David Horst getting a start since his injury), Jose Escalante seeing time on the wing as a sub or starter, and possibly Eric Alexander getting his first start.
Projected Lineup – 4-1-4-1: Joe Willis; DaMarcus Beasley, Jalil Anibaba, Raul Rodriguez, Sheanon Williams; Collen Warner; Alex Lima, Ricardo Clark, Cristian Maidana, Oscar Boniek Garcia; Mauro Manotas
DT: Former Seattle manager Sigi Schmid recently revealed that despite several accolades including a Supporter Shield, four Open Cup trophies, and consistent playoff appearances throughout his tenure as manager, the front office was impatient with his inability to win the MLS Cup. Do you think there is any truth to what Sigi said, and if not why do you believe he was let go?
SaH: At the core of it there were three reasons that Sigi Schmid is no longer the coach here. He had seven years to win an MLS Cup, and did not. At some point, that was going to lead to losing his job. I was of the opinion that should be at the end of this season, but due to how poor the first half of the season went the club made the change. The other two reasons more directly relate to 2016's first half performance. First, President of Soccer and General Manager Garth Lagerwey was no longer willing to do as the Sounders had done in the past and rush into an immediate fix when Obafemi Martins left. He was patient enough that the season felt nearly over. Then came Nicolas Lodeiro, and many things improved. The third item is the perception from the outside that players had stopped listening to Sigi. One only need look back on the loss to KC to see players give up in middle of a winnable game to see how bad things were.
DT: The last time our clubs met back in August (Dynamo at 25 points and Seattle at 31) the Dynamo nearly stole one if it weren’t for a stoppage time equalizer by Nicolas Lodeiro. Since then Seattle has won 4 and drawn 1 out of its last 6 games. How has Seattle elevated its play at just the right time and what place do you see Seattle finishing in the table before the postseason begins?
SaH: The biggest factor has been Lodeiro. His leadership and ability change the Sounders. That happened at the same time that Schmetzer earned complete buy-in from the players in a system that is a simplified 4-2-3-1 with Alonso-Roldan sitting deeper. Schmetz also convinced the players that they were the key to any sort of turn around. They couldn't look to a coach or a member of the front office for credit or blame. Everything rests on the players shoulders.
Bearing that burden the players that were having down years are now having decent years. Lodeiro looks to be someone who will be an MVP candidate when healthy and Jordan Morris is the best rookie American scorer in history. The offense is still a bit weak. In run of play it is just those two that are threatening, but on set-pieces Andreas Ivanschitz' service and the numerous targets like Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Alvaro Fernandez, Brad Evans, Herculez Gomez, Nelson Haedo Valdez and Morris can produce. Together that's a competent offense. The defense is back to being awesome. It's a good team, and it may just have the opportunity to finish third.
DT: Last match between our clubs was also a midweek game with an important game on the weekend (then it was Portland and now it’s Dallas). What kind of adjustments could we see for this game ahead of the game at FCD – if any adjustments?
SaH: Head Coach Brian Schmetzer is not big on resting talent. He tends to avoid squad rotation, and that is probably a bit of why he's won so much. Joevin Jones (LB) and Oniel Fisher (RB/LB) will both miss the game due to international duty, so Seattle will be forced to use its third or fourth choice left back. Brad Evans is out with a red card so there may be some flexibility at right mid where Evans, Gomez, Fernandez, Roldan and Valdez have all played. But that's it. The spine will be what drives the team, and it will be what it has been for nearly two months.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1): Stefan Frei; Dylan Remick, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Tyrone Mears; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Andreas Ivanschitz, Nicolas Lodeiro, Alvaro Fernandez; Jordan Morris
Ivanschitz and Fernandez could both be injured. That may lead to a less than ideal Herculez Gomez and Nelson Haedo Valdez as the wide players.