Full-sized ESPN hosts the match between perennial MLS Cup favorites (and failures) Seattle Sounders FC and the Owen Coyle led Houston Dynamo. The 1 PM Pacific game on Sunday is early enough in the year that the oppressive heat of East Texas shouldn't be a factor. Houston is 1-2-1 +3 due to a blowout win over Dallas. Seattle is only 1-3-0 -2 with games being decided by referees rather than talent. The Sounders will look to fix a stagnant offense. Dynamo have a different problem, plenty of attack and very little defense.
Gribbs from Dynamo Theory answers Three Questions to prepare you for this road game.
SaH: What's going on with Cubo Torres?
DT: That is an incredibly difficult question to answer. There are a few parts to the Cubo situation that may illuminate some of the problems he's facing. Cubo has struggled to compete for a starting spot and has even struggled to earn minutes. In a 4-2-3-1, there are plenty of opportunities for forwards to gain playing time, but Will Bruin, Giles Barnes, Cristian Maidana, and Andrew Wenger have all poised themselves ahead of the young designated player. Cubo has even taken a backseat as a substitute to the younger Mauro Manotas who had a much more productive preseason than Cubo.
Some of that has nothing to do with Cubo either. He's putting in the work in practice, but another problem he faces is simply that the offense is producing incredibly well at the moment. The Dynamo is currently the highest scoring team in the league and they didn't play last week and didn't score the week before. With the offense scoring the need to change strikers significantly diminishes.
Lastly, Cubo was going to see some playing time earlier in the year, but a few early injuries led Owen Coyle to make alternate substitutions so Cubo never had a chance to see the field.
SaH: Is this finally Owen Coyle's team? What does that play look like?
DT: I do believe this is Coyle's team. Last season he inherited the personnel from Dom Kinnear and he has now had a chance to acclimate himself to life in MLS. He's re-signed players he liked, added new players, and has implemented an attacking style that he promised when he first arrived in Houston. In the 4-2-3-1 we've seen our forwards and midfielders press high to create turnovers and take advantage of the offensive threats they have lined up high on the field. Wenger, Maidana, Bruin, and Barnes have all taken advantage of this and produced goals or assists of some kind by applying this level of pressure.
Defensively, the team needs work. By pressing high and keeping players in advanced positions, the team has been exposed by accurate over the top balls and counter attacks as evidenced by our game against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Players on the wings will need to learn to get back defensively, though Wenger has proven to do this with ease, and central defensive midfielders will need to be careful with their positioning to not allow movement through the center of the field on counters.
SaH: Which of the new additions has been the biggest key to this season's early success?
DT: The two players that have had the most significant impact this season have been our Philadelphia Union acquisitions: Cristian Maidana and Andrew Wenger. Maidana has taken over set piece duties from Brad Davis who was traded to Sporting Kansas City and "Chaco" has shown he is a more than capable replacement. He possesses a lot of vision and can link well with the offensive tools around him. Wenger has a tremendously high work rate and has proven to be a box-to-box winger. He has speed, vision, and an eye for goal all while being able to get back defensively. These traits helped him earn the MLS Player of the Week nomination a few weeks back for his efforts in our 5-0 win against FC Dallas. The two together have helped transform the club into the attacking brand that Coyle first marketed to us in Houston.
Projected Lineup: Tyler Deric; DaMarcus Beasley, Raul Rodriguez, David Horst, Jalil Anibaba; Alex Lima, Ricardo Clark; Giles Barnes, Cristian Maidana, Andrew Wenger; Will Bruin
DT: The Seattle Sounders finished their 2015 MLS campaign in 4th place (just a few points shy of 2nd) and ended up falling to FC Dallas in the Conference Semifinals in the playoffs. What are the expectations this year for the Sounders and what would be considered a failed season?
SaH: The answer to this one varies wildly. There are people who will consider another appearance in the playoffs success. Others insist the club has to get the MLS Cup, or at least a Shield or Open Cup. I've even written that Sigi should be gone if he doesn't win the MLS Cup, despite that I think it isn't because the 2016 season would be a failure, but due to the long-term success curve of the club. Lastly, there's the opinion that this season is a rebuild rather than a reload.
Those people feel that the talent added during the two transfer windows is more important than the results of the regular season. They see a team with eight regulars that will be 30 or over starting the 2017 season. With an open DP slot and enough TAM/GAM to add a second significant piece the two new additions will be about a continuing need to extend the trophy window. When the org had core that ended 2015 the window was probably going to close at the end of this year. Now without Oba that window might be closed right now.
It's about what Morris, Roldan, Kovar and Anderson can do as they step into major roles and what gets added. This is the most complex season for Sounders FC since 2009.
DT: The Sounders currently sit in last place of the Western Conference and have only finished 3 goals in 4 games. Why is Seattle struggling early out of the gates?
SaH: Every loss has a reason. They're each valid. All of the reasons suck and there isn't anything that can be done about it. Oniel Fisher took an early red card for the type of challenges we're seeing called more often this year. Then Stefan Frei flubbed a routine save on a shot from distance. So rather than scrape out a 0-0 draw while down a man for 75+ minutes match one was a loss. In the next game injury subs. In match two the Sounders had to use an 18' minute sub when Friberg went down. Despite that they were up a goal... and then lost 2-1 at home anyway. Match three saw Vancouver dive once and flop another time. Two penalties against was the only offense the Whitecaps could muster. It was another 2-1 loss.
All teams have crappy luck throughout the season. Crappy luck three games in a row to start the season after losing an MVP candidate shined a big, bright light on the issues with the offense. Seattle doesn't "deserve" to be at the bottom of the table. But they also don't look good.
DT: Following Obafemi Martin's departure, the Sounders' offense seems to be searching for the right way to connect the pieces in order to run optimally. How can Sigi Schmid tinker a way to get this Sounder offense to start producing
SaH: Once upon a time Jordan Morris was going to be a rotational player trying to learn the pro game. Now, in the post-Oba Sounders Jordan Morris has to be the man, at least until they add another top end talent. Nelson Haedo Valdez and Andreas Ivanschitz can help. Both joined during the Summer transfer window last year (as did Eric Friberg and Roman Torres, both injured). Together that offense should be able to do things. It has yet to perform.
Last match, and probably in this one too, Sigi shifted the parts around in order to try and increase service to Clint Dempsey. That's the other part of the answer. Where Oba needs to be replaced by the group, Clint needs to be an MVP candidate. That means a lot of touches within 25 yards of goal, mostly central. He "should" be scoring more goals. It's not happening yet.
There's a lot not happening yet. At this time the Sounders are an average MLS side. They can win games; they can lose games; they won't look dominant ever.
Projected Lineup: Frei; Joevin Jones, Marshall, Evans, Mears; Alonso, Roldan; Dempsey; Ivanschitz, Morris, Kovar