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Five thoughts about Sounders’ failure to launch in Houston

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Sounders start well but end up playing from behind most of the night.

Photo by Houston Dynamo Communications

It looked so promising at the beginning.

For about 10 minutes, the Seattle Sounders were on the front foot again, seemingly poised to continue a run of hot starts. While pressing and throwing numbers forward, the Sounders were able to create some good attacking opportunities and keep the Dynamo pinned back. While there were no gilt-edged chances, it only seemed like a matter of time before the Sounders would put one in the back of the net.

Then, someone cut the fuel line.

A well-worked goal from a Dynamo free kick caught the Sounders napping — and a second goal about five minutes later off a piece of individual quality from Darwin Quintero — put the Sounders on the back foot, forcing them to chase the game for much of the last 70 minutes of play. A goal just before halftime from Jimmy Medranda gave the illusion of a potential result, but in the end it was more a mirage than reality. The Dynamo were probably a bit closer to scoring the next goal — hitting the woodwork four times — even as the Sounders generated several good looks of their own.

The Sounders will now have to regroup and reassess, with a dangerous two-game swing ahead of them that could significantly alter the shape of the Western Conference. The Supporters’ Shield race — if it wasn’t over before this match — is effectively done and dusted, and as head coach Brian Schmetzer said after the match, they need to focus on their own business in the last five matches.

Jimmy “bangers only” Medranda

There are a lot of candidates for team MVP behind obvious front-runners João Paulo and Raul Ruidiaz. While left back Jimmy Medranda might not be quite at that level, his contributions may have exceeded expectations by the greatest degree. After getting through some early-season injury issues, Medranda has been more than just a steady influence on the team. He’s been dynamic at points, serving up some incredible goals and aggressiveness on defense. His goal in the 41st minute was not only another absolute stunner, but it was also his career-high fourth of the season.

Missing Yeimar

Yeimar’s unfortunate suspension for a dubious foul against the Vancouver Whitecaps didn’t figure to hurt the Sounders much against the Dynamo. But this is MLS, and most every team has at least one attacker that on their day can hurt opponents. Maxi Urruti may be an MLS journeyman, but he’s had a long career in the league and certainly hurt the Sounders before. And his finish in the 14th minute to give the Dynamo the lead was a fine one, volleying a shot from a pass that effectively came over his shoulder. Darwin Quintero caused the Sounders backline fits all night, the most dazzling of which came on his goal in the 20th minute. Still, it’s hard not to wonder how Yeimar and Nouhou (rested due to travel from the international break) starting could have changed things.

Final-third struggles

Medranda’s strike aside, the Sounders didn’t have a good night in front of goal. For all the good work they did in the first 10 minutes, they weren’t able to manufacture a truly dangerous chance. And after they conceded, they spent much of the rest of the match either chasing the game, forcing passes that didn’t connect or sending in crosses that Houston’s backline easily dealt with. Eventually, they seemed to run out of ideas. Their last quality chance came on a free kick that João Paulo ended up striking off the underside of the crossbar. It just wasn’t their night.

Houston deserved this one

João Paulo’s free kick attempt in extra time was truly a heartbreaker, rebounding off the crossbar with the Sounders not able to convert the rebound. It was incredibly unlucky, but the Dynamo had some extreme bad luck of their own, with four shots bouncing off the post or crossbar before João Paulo’s near-wonder-strike. Houston used the Sounders' desperation well, creating a multitude of counterattacks that just missed opening the game wide open. On balance, it was a game the Dynamo deserved to win, and the Sounders were somewhat lucky to be in at the end.

Focus on the business at hand

In some ways, this result should allow the Sounders to focus on what really matters: Finishing atop the Western Conference. Surely dreams of a miracle run to the Supporters’ Shield title were in the back of their minds, but the odds of catching the New England Revolution were always slim, as it was heavily dependent on the Revolution dropping points. And even though the Revolution did exactly that on Saturday — a 2-2 tie at home to the lowly Chicago Fire — the Sounders have had an annoying habit of not taking advantage, failing to gain ground the last four times the Revolution dropped points. So send the saucer to Gilette, and focus on getting results against the two Western Conference contenders whom the Sounders will face in their next two matches.