Houston is a curious side this year. They have no one that makes you go, "Oh, sh...what the hell did he just do?" like Piatti was capable of last week. Under Owen Coyle they have struggled to find results and an identity. This season they have just four points in four games, but they've scored 11 goals in that period. They've drawn 3-3, won 5-0, and lost 4-3 and 1-0. They blew out FC Dallas, but lost to Red Bulls and Vancouver in the last two matches, including being shutout in Canada.
Will Bruin plays the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 and has three of the clubs 11 goals (one came via an own goal). He's not the best with the ball at his feet, but he's surprisingly good for how Nate Jaqua-esque his style and build is. He's more clinical in the box than other old school MLS strikers like Chad Barrett, but doesn't strike fear into a centerback like Wondolowski does. He's simple. He's strong. He's tall. He scores. Chad Marshall and Brad Evans are the right CBs to match up, with their aerial ability and understanding of how to prevent service to a true #9, something Vancouver did very well last week.
Óscar Boniek Garcia, Andrew Wenger, Leonel Miranda, and Cristian Maidana make up the attacking options for Coyle in midfield and each brings a unique skillset, with Garcia and Maidana being like-for-like in the center of the trio. Neither winger is going to win a 1v1 with speed like Fabian Castillo. Neither is going to just send cross after cross perfectly to Bruin's chest. They'll chase down a ball and use their body to make space and feed it into whoever slides in at the #10 spot. Maidana/Garcia will feed Bruin or the opposite winger that is crashing.
Defensively they played FC Dallas fairly well, but they've given up eight goals in four matches. Jalil Anibaba plays fullback opposite of DaMarcus Beasley. The wings are suspect but have enough speed to mask some of their defensive liabilities. Neither is going to win many aerial duels and are slower than Morris and Joevin Jones, giving the Sounders an ability to exploit the wings. Crossing into the center will require a bit of precision. Raul Rodriguez is a small 6' and is unlikely to win most duels against the Sounders forwards. David Horst, though, is 6'4" and good in the air. He's a pretty poor defender and will trip over his own two feet trying to stop Clint Dempsey from trying stuffs.
Off the bench will be Maidana or Garcia as well as Erick "Cubo" Torres. The DP has played a whole five minutes this season after landing in Coyle's doghouse. He likely will only see time if they are desperate or Bruin gets hurt, but he's always dangerous, and with him looking to improve his minutes he could be deadly off the bench.
Overall, Houston lacks identity but not goals this year. The Sounders need to find goals (and thankfully this is a leaky defense), but if the Green don't shore up their defense in Houston they'll find themselves falling behind to the Dynamo. I think even a Valdez-less (potentially) squad finds goals. Herc will start in his place and tally his first. So will Jordan Morris. Sounders win, 3-1.
Houston: Deric, Anibaba, Horst, Rodriguez, Beasley, Clark, Alex, Wenger, Maidana, Miranda, Bruin
Sounders: Frei, Mears, Evans, Marshall, Jones, Alonso, Roldan, Dempsey, Morris, Gomez, Ivanschitz