With no goals in leg one the Houston Dynamo almost certainly need to change their approach in leg two. Down two more players due to suspension Wilmer Cabrera needs depth to step up. The Seattle Sounders are also down a starter, though the continued break may mean they get other talent back.
The 7:30 PM Thursday night match (ESPN) has one team that could approach the game on cruise control, and another that may need to respond with frenetic energy early. Seattle’s 2-nil lead. Those two road goals means that any win, any draw, any one-goal loss would put the Sounders into the MLS Cup. A Houston win of 2-0 forces extra time. Any other multi-goal win by the Dynamo puts them in their third Cup.
Derek from Dynamo Theory answers three more questions.
SaH: Is the loss of Jalil Anibaba or Alberth Elis more damaging towards the chance at a comeback?
DT: Without a doubt the answer is Alberth Elis and for a few reasons. For starters, when you’re down two goals in a playoff series, you need your best attacking players available to help close the gap and Elis is one of our best. The other reason is he’s simply a better player. Jalil Anibaba was a bench player until injuries to both A.J. DeLaGarza and Leonardo forced him into the lineup at RB. Elis is a designated player and a starter. His speed, ability to take on multiple defenders, and ability to score in a variety of ways will be missed by the Dynamo.
Anibaba will be missed too, but depending on the health of Philippe Senderos, it’s a more manageable loss.
SaH: What areas do the Dynamo need to exploit to get at least two goals in Seattle?
DT: For the Dynamo to have a chance in this one they’ll need to control the ball in Seattle’s half of the field for the majority of the game – or at least until the score board says they’re back in it. The Dynamo, at their best, are not a possession oriented team. They’re much better at absorbing pressure and then releasing a counter attack with their quick wingers. This means they’ll have to find ways to penetrate Seattle’s defense through passing and creativity without allowing the Sounders to break up their play. Tomas Martinez, Alex, and Vicente Sanchez will all be pivotal in this working. Houston will also need to come out strong, which they didn’t do in the opening leg, and use that energy to try and test either Tyler Miller or Stefan Frei.
SaH: Will Cabrera play for a shutout, or run and gun?
DT: I’m sure at this point Cabrera would be thrilled with anything that has the Dynamo up by at least two goals. Obviously they’ll need to go out there and get goals and that should be the priority. Tactics might change if they’re able to get an early goal, but the strategy at this stage should be to take advantage of any counter, try and build up in Seattle’s half, and finish set pieces. Defensively, the team cannot afford to go down 3-0 so the defenders must be focused and the play of Juan David Cabezas and Eric Alexander or Ricardo Clark in midfield must be clinical.
Projected lineup: 4-3-3: Joe Willis; DaMarcus Beasley, Philippe Senderos, Leonardo, Adolfo Machado; Juan David Cabezas, Tomas Martinez, Ricardo Clark; Romell Quioto, Cubo Torres, Mauro Manotas
DT: Coming into the second leg of a playoff series with a 2-0 lead must have Seattle feeling pretty confident about a second consecutive MLS Cup appearance. How will Seattle prepare for this one and is it possible they’re already looking too far ahead?
SaH: Whether talking to seasoned veterans, young players, or the coach, the mood and tenor is the same -- Seattle is going for the win at home. They intend to score early. If that means they can coast again in the second half, they will. But they will not coast yet. They are reluctant to discuss Toronto and Columbus. The focus is clear. They must beat Houston in order to advance. You should expect them to be aggressive for the first 15-20 minutes and then settle into their more typical patient attack.
DT: In the first leg, Seattle was missing some big pieces in Stefan Frei, Jordan Morris, and Osvaldo Alonso. Which of those players is likely to return and how much of an impact on the game will they have?
SaH: You've got them in the exact order one should rank them on likelihood to return. Stefan Frei was already healthy enough that if it was MLS Cup Schmetzer said he would play him. Jordan Morris is training, and won't have to worry about travel. I fully expect him to be in the 18. Alonso is further off and is unlikely to be in the 18 until MLS Cup, if they make MLS Cup.
Frei means even better shot-stopping and distribution. It will be harder to score against Seattle with him, but much of that increase disappears with the lack of Torres. Morris would add a speed element that in leg one only came from the left side with the dual left backs. Jordan can replace either of them and give Seattle a strong threat when they clear the ball.
DT: Roman Torres is another yellow card accumulation casualty and given the formidable partnership he’s forged in central defense with Chad Marshall, how much will Torres be missed and who is in line to fill in?
SaH: There are four options. The simplest is a straight swap with Tony Alfaro replacing Torres. This keeps the defensive midfield duo intact, which has certain advantages, though Gustav Svensson is a capable centerback. The other two options involve moving Svensson to CB, where he is a strong passer, but can be taken advantage of in the air. This would require a new partner for Cristian Roldan. The most aggressive change would be to put Nicolas Lodeiro back to central midfield with Victor Rodriguez starting up top. For a team that wants to possess another to death and score a goal this makes a lot of sense. The other is the most defensive of options. Jordy Delem would start at DM and Joevin Jones would slot at left back with an attacking midfield of Rodriguez, Dempsey and Lodeiro. This would probably be the strongest against the counter.
A fourth option involves Harry Shipp playing as the CM with Roldan, but this is weaker on defense than the Delem choice and weaker in attack than the Lodeiro one.
Projected Lineup: Frei; Nouhou, Marshall, Svensson, Leerdam; Roldan, Lodeiro; Jones, Dempsey, Rodriguez; Bruin