Let’s check the weather forecast in Houston for Wednesday at about kickoff (8 PM Central) - 85 degrees, partly sunny after an afternoon of thunderstorms and the low 90s. That wrinkle, on top of a week of heavy travel flying from Seattle to Houston to Seattle and then busing to Portland all within six days with two games to play, creates an interesting quandary for head coach Brian Schmetzer. He needs to rest some players ahead of Sunday’s trip to Portland, but he also needs to maximize the points he takes before the bye week. Considering these circumstances, both teams’ bloggers trying to guess the lineups used is an exercise in understanding a philosophy with little to base it on, as both teams are coached by coaches new to the MLS head coaching ranks.
Gribbs from Dynamo Theory answers Three Questions.
SaH: With nearly a year under the new ownership's belts what has the lack of AEG meant for local fans?
DT: When the ownership shift took place many fans were happy that our Dynamo would no longer play second-fiddle to the LA Galaxy (or any club for that matter). We wanted someone that was involved with the fans and is passionate about the club. The ownership group we now have, headed by Gabriel Brener, largely delivered in those areas. This past Monday he actually penned a letter to the fans recognizing that where we are isn’t good enough and that we deserve better. He talked about measured progress, where we have improved, and what needs to improve all while providing a timetable for when we can expect to make additional signings that can take our team to the next level. This is something we hadn’t seen before with the AEG leadership and it demonstrates the level of commitment and passion our new group has.
SaH: How much squad rotation will Wade Barrett have to use due to the midweek match? Is he focused on youth and building for 2017?
DT: It’s incredibly difficult to say given the weight of the matches the Dynamo play this week. First up is Seattle, a team within reach to eventually catch and then this coming Saturday is our rival FC Dallas which we need a good result for in order to reclaim our status as the winner of the Texas Derby (which comes with a cannon as a trophy).
The one thing that benefits Wade Barrett is the health of the squad, something that we didn’t have a few weeks back. Our backline has proven to be incredibly robust under Barrett’s direction even with 2nd or 3rd string players which is quite a feat. I would expect the most rotation up top and in the midfield depending on how many minutes some players go. Barrett has played a 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1 lately which gives some flexibility with forward selections. With Cubo Torres back from Brazil, Mauro Manotas demonstrating his form, and the proven Will Bruin, there are certainly options there which could also mean a switch to a 4-4-2, though I’m not certain Barrett would make that switch following a victory with a 4-2-3-1. In the midfield I think we’ll see some changes, but most of them would be fairly “like-for-like” changes. We have several quality central midfielders that can be plugged in for each other and we can even push two of those into wide areas if that’s necessary.
I would predict largely similar lineups both games just because these games mean a lot and Barrett is essentially playing for his job next year. As far as youth is concerned, I think we’ll see some, but mostly up top in Cubo and Manotas. We could see young players like Jose Escalante or Rob Lovejoy, but I think other players are more likely to get the call.
SaH: Can Cubo Torres carry his success with the Mexico U23s into performing for Houston?
DT: Without going over all the reasons Cubo has not done well in Orange (limited minutes, not making the most of those minutes, system, many call-ups, etc), I think Cubo will have his best chance to succeed the remainder of the season. Depending on the system Barrett wants to use, Cubo would likely be a starter or one of the first choices off the bench which would increase his minutes significantly. With Giles Barnes now donning a Vancouver Whitecaps kit, the opportunities for our existing forwards should increase. That doesn’t guarantee that he’ll do well, but he’s talented enough to turn his lackluster first year as a Dynamo around.
Projected Lineup, 4-2-3-1: Joe Willis; Abdoulie Mansally, Raul Rodriguez, David Horst, Jalil Anibaba; Collen Warner, Ricardo Clark; Alex Lima, Cristian Maidana, Oscar Boniek Garcia; Mauro Manotas
DT: The Sounders have really turned things around since Sigi Schmid’s departure. What has been the driving force behind the Sounder’s recent turn of fortune?
SaH: This is the biggest question in the SounderSphere. There are a lot of factors, some which have little to do with head coach Brian Schmetzer and Designated Player Nicolas Lodeiro. The biggest of those is "new coach effect." There is a stereotypical bounce from that, as players realize their jobs are in danger too.
Not to get too listy, but there are a bunch of things going right currently. Brian Schmetzer has the Sounders playing a clean, crisp, simple version of soccer that maximizes freedom for Clint Dempsey and Lodeiro. Clint Dempsey is playing at the level he did at Copa America. That's an MVP caliber player, who could be short-listed for the player of the month. Nicolas Lodeiro could also be on that list. He's a DP in rare MLS air. On the young side of peak age, the Uruguay and former Boca Juniors number 10 is following in the footsteps of Guillermo Barros-Schelotto. Tyrone Mears, Andreas Ivanschitz both look rejuvenated as well.
Remember, during preseason, even after the loss of Obafemi Martins people still pegged this as a playoff team. They are now playing like it while also adding an MVP level talent.
DT: Seattle plays Houston in a midweek game, but then travels to Portland to take on the Timbers on Sunday. Which game is it more important to win from a Sounder perspective? Will interim manager Brian Schmetzer rest some players in the Dynamo match in order to prioritize the Timbers game given their place in the standings?
SaH: Beating Portland will mean more. It isn't because of the rivalry, although that's significant. It is because by beating Portland the Sounders would swap places with them in the standings and gain control of the red line. Beating Houston puts Seattle into sixth, which is good, but then the Timbers could just grab it back. Swapping the order of a "just three points" scenario makes it rather clear which means more.
Now, if Schmetzer can nab 4 points—or a fantastical 6—from this double-game week, then the playoff dream becomes reality.
DT: Despite holding the attacking talents of Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, and Herculez Gomez, the Sounders are one of the poorest finishing teams in the league. Is it regression, less support, or less creativity? How will summer acquisition and designated player Nicolas Loderio help remedy these finishing woes?
SaH :The finishing issues come down to two things. The first was simply that before Lodeiro too many of the shots were in poor positions. Whether they were rushed, from distance or through traffic they were forced. That meant that they took a lot of shots, but most were ineffective. That meant that they were dramatically underperforming measures like expected Goals.
Jordan Morris is the other issue. Oddly, in the early season, he was finishing right on par with xG. But starting in the LA draw (when nearly all of the 2.17 xG-G was due to Morris) he's been bad at finishing - not average, bad. He knows he needs to work on it. It may be because he's now at the limit of competitive matches played since he was a high school senior in the Academy. Now, he's only at -2.36, so it isn't all on him.
Herculez Gomez is a shadow of the USMNT hero he was. Nelson Haedo Valdez used to be Paraguay's best attacker. Both are now great effort guys who will supply defense up top or out wide, but cannot be counted on to score.
Seattle's offense is back to being average to good, but if one of Morris, Herc or Valdez get going at even a league average scoring rate, this thing will be a beast.
The hardest lineup to project in the Schmetzer era: Stefan Frei; Dylan Remick, Roman Torres, Brad Evans, Tyrone Mears; Osvaldo Alonso, Erik Friberg; Alvaro Fernandez, Nicolas Lodeiro, Cristian Roldan; Nelson Haedo Valdez