Who You’ll Watch
For the first time in their MLS history, the Seattle Sounders will open on the road. The first game of the season has the Sounders traveling to BBVA Compass Stadium to take on the Houston Dynamo. This is the Sounders first match that counts since they won MLS Cup in December.
This will be an entirely different Houston team then the last time the Sounders saw them on Oct 12, 2016. The two centerbacks that started for Houston that night, Keyner Brown and David Horst, are no longer with the team. Will Bruin, who started as the lone striker, is now a member of the Sounders. They also have a new coach in Wilmer Cabrera, who took over as the full time head coach after Houston moved on from interim coach Wade Barrett.
Dynamo 2016 Record: 7-14-13, last in the West
Returning top scorer from 2016: Andrew Wenger & Mauro Manotas, 6
Returning assist leader from 2016: Boniek Garcia, 9
Notable Dynamo Roster Changes:
Out: Cristian Maidana, David Horst, Keyner Brown, Will Bruin
In: Dylan Remick, Leonardo, A.J. DeLaGarza, Juan David Cabreza, Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto, Adolfo Machado
What to Watch
Houston’s offseason transaction log shows the obvious signs of a team in transition and looking to get younger. How successful Cabrera is in reshaping the identity of his inherited team will be one of the more interesting sub-plots of the league this year. The former manager of Chivas USA (in their ill-fated final season) will look to implement a 4-3-3 similar to what he used there, where he tried to use high pressure and midfield turnovers to generate opportunities. The Dynamo’s remade XI is full of intriguing pieces that have the potential to be competitive in his system, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them make a 2016 Montreal-style run if they can stay healthy.
How will Cubo Torres fare? And will it actually matter that much? While Torres has certainly looked much more confident this preseason, and scored a number of goals, Houston also made a number of major moves aimed at creating a more broadly threatening offense. In particular, forwards Alberth Elis (loan) and Romell Quioto (free transfer), new arrivals to Houston but teammates on Honduras’ national team, will hope to take pressure off by helping apply high pressure. At the same time, the front line will require service from somewhere that doesn’t require them dropping deep to pick it up to succeed, and it’s not really clear where that’s going to come from. While Alex was Houston’s best offensive player last year, that’s a very relative term for the second-worst offense (by goals scored) in the league in 2016. A lot is new for Houston’s offensive plan this year, and after two highly disappointing years for Torres this is almost certainly a make or break season that he’ll be wanting to start off on the right foot.
Can Houston’s new defense keep it together? Joining the new forward tandem is new right back A.J. DeLaGarza (from L.A. via trade), new centerbacks Adolfo Machado (signed from Saprissa) and Leonardo (from L.A. via the re-entry draft), and a new defensive midfielder in Juan David Cabezas (loaned from Deportivo Cali). That’s a lot of defensive turnover in one off-season. There’s solid, experienced talent that’s been acquired to help remake the backline, and it has the potential to be pretty good if everything comes together (particularly if DaMarcus Beasley has another good-to-great year left in him). Early season growing pains should be expected, and the Sounders are certainly capable of taking advantage of holes opened via miscommunication.
Will the Sounders’ offense flow? There’s little question Houston’s defense will have holes for Seattle to take advantage of, but the offense has been a bit fitful in preseason as players have struggled with niggling injuries and lineups have been the typical Boggle construction. Of particular concern is the right back situation. This team is constructed to use its outside backs for width, and missing Brad Evans’ combination of skill and positional intelligence at RB has the potential to hamper its ability to maintain solid two-way support from the position. Further complicating matters, Houston’s centerbacks and defensive midfielders have no problem throwing a foot out to cut down centrally-focused attack, and will certainly look to employ this against the Sounders. Hope arrives in the form of an offensive front consisting of Flaco Fernandez, Nicolás Lodeiro, Clint Dempsey, and Jordan Morris - as skilled an attack as exists in this league. If any group in MLS can talent their way through a few early season speedbumps to a goal or three, it’s this one.
Houston: Deric, Run DMB, Machado, Leonardo, AJDLG, Cabeza, Ruiz Kicker, Alex, Quioto, Cubo, Elis
Seattle: Frei, Jones, Dad, Torres, Svensson, El Corazon, Jorstian, Flaco, Deuce, Lodeiro, Mordan
How to Watch
Television: Q13 13.1/JoeTV 22.2 (Seattle area)
Radio: KIRO 97.3 (English), El Rey 1360 (Spanish)