Who You’ll Watch
We have finally made it to leg two of the Western Conference Finals.
THIS IS THE LAST TIME YOU GET TO WATCH THE SEATTLE SOUNDERS PLAY AT CENTURYLINK FIELD THIS SEASON!
Sorry, we just really wanted to get that out there. It’s hard to believe that after nine long, arduous months, this is the final time that we get to see our boys put on the Rave Green at home this year. Man, that went by fast.
The Sounders hold a 2-0 lead going into leg two. Any win or tie would see them through, and even a one-goal loss would be good enough to advance to MLS Cup. There are a few other possibilities, but instead of writing them all out, take a look for yourself:
Form: W-W-D-W-L, six goals scored and three conceded
Top Scorers: Erick Torres, 14 goals (club record)
Top Assist Leader: Alex, 11 assists
Form: W-W-D-W-W, 11 goals scored and two conceded
Top Scorer: Clint Dempsey, 12 goals
Top Assist Leader: Nicolas Lodeiro, 12 assists
Absences: Injury, international duty, suspension
Tyler Deric (off-field conduct), Jalil Anibaba (red card) and Alberth Elis (yellow-card accumulation) are all suspended. George Malki (torn ACL), AJ DeLaGarza (torn ACL) and Memo Rodriguez (knee) are all listed as out.
Roman Torres (yellow-card accumulation) is suspended for this game, and that is a hard pill to swallow. Brad Evans (back) is the lone Sounder listed as out for this match. Osvaldo Alonso (quad strain), Stefan Frei (hamstring) and Jordan Morris (hamstring) are all listed as questionable.
REF: Alan Kelly
AR1: Peter Balciunas
AR2: Corey Parker
4TH: Hilario Grajeda
VAR: Edvin Jurisevic
What to Watch
While leg one in Houston didn’t go absolutely perfectly, it went at least as well as could have been expected beforehand. Coming home with a 2-0 lead gives Seattle a lot of options to work with and a low-stress situation in which to work.
Houston’s absences will make things even more difficult for a team that seems to be pretty clearly punching upwards at the moment. Romell Quioto, though an intriguing talent, is a solid step below Alberth Elis. The Dynamo are out of natural right backs to replace Jalil Anibaba; they’ll likely have to start a CB or midfielder at a high leverage position. Both are big blows in their own way, and force significant compromises for a team needing to keep balance between offense and defense.
Seattle can’t rest entirely, though. Roman Torres’ suspension leaves a crack open if Houston can come out just right. Gustav Svennson seems most likely to start in place of Torres. This would normally be the place to bring up how he can be beat aerially, but Houston is so bad in the air, and probably won’t end up in a deep possession offense very often, that it’s unlikely they even try to take advantage of it.
This also means the probable return of deep-lying Nicolas Lodeiro, a thing I’m particularly fond of. His effort level is sufficient to disrupt most MLS offenses, and against teams looking to push forward his passing from deep should produce a number of dangerous opportunities.
So how does Seattle calmly ease into an MLS Cup appearance?
Stay compact - Houston is going to need to throw numbers forward starting early in the match in hopes of getting a goal back. The absence of Elis is going to put a real crimp in Houston’s counter-attack. It seems most likely that they aim to run, trying to keep the match in some semblance of a transition game as much as they can to spread out the field and give their (mostly) younger, (mostly) quicker roster room to breathe.
As much as Brian Schmetzer says the team will be playing for the win, that shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the focus will be offensive. Slowing the game down with a clogged field will go a long way towards negating Houston’s largest threat, but still allow Seattle to take advantage of the Dynamo’s defensive questions. Cautiously aggressive can be an entertaining tactic as well, and a 1-0 win is still a win.
This match will once again be won or lost in the midfield. even if Svennson moves back, the Sounders midfield, both offense and defense, remains a level beyond anything Houston is able to push out.
Stay aggressive - With the need for goals, and a lot of them, there’s a distinct possibility that Houston comes out in a formation that plays like a hybrid 4-3-3/3-4-3. It would be a risky move, to be sure, but as Wilmer Cabrera pointed out after the first leg, they might as well have fun and try.
Whether that’s the choice, or something else, there will be a lot of opportunities to take advantage of space behind attempted overloads, between an out-skilled defense, and via one-on-one battles in favor of Seattle (like Joevin Jones going down the left). These are perfect spots for Lo-deep-o to drop dimes in for Jones, Dempsey, and Rodriguez. This is also the perfect spot for a little rope-a-dope to suck the Dynamo up the field, stonewall them at the top of the defensive third, and hit them with a counter-punch.
This goes for defensive aggression, too. The Sounders have built the longest post-season shutout streak in league history, and there’s no reason to concede this just because you’ve got a big lead. Crush their hopes and dreams early, and keep on stepping all over them.
Stay healthy - The Sounders have had ongoing injury issues for a large portion of the season, but find themselves in one of their best positions, availability-wise, of the year. Keep it that way for the next match.
How to Watch
Date/Time: 11/30/17 @ 7:30 PM PST
Venue: CenturyLink Field
Television: ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN1 (Canada)
Radio: KIRO 97.3 FM (English), El Rey 1360 AM (Spanish)