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The Seattle Sounders were never in this game. They looked tired, sluggish and second-best from the very beginning while the Houston Dynamo executed their game plan to perfection and coasted to a surprisingly easy 3-1 victory at Robertson Stadium. Seattle's difference-makers in attack were neutralized thanks to the Dynamo's physical play and their lone goal game from a penalty won by Fredy Montero while headed away from goal. On the other side of things, the Sounders defense was uncharacteristically disorganized, giving Houston's most dangerous players more than enough room to hurt them. It was one of Seattle's worst performances of the season, and the pressure will now be on Sigi Schmid to right the ship before the Sounders CONCACAF Champions League and Supporters Shield chances desert them.
There's little doubt that fixture congestion, extensive travel and heat took a lot out of Seattle on the evening, but these are things that elite teams should be able to overcome. There's been nothing about Seattle's play this past week to suggest they're an elite team and though there's still a fair chunk of season left to play, things have got to improve quickly if the club hopes to look back on this season and say that they've truly taken a step forward.The talent is there; they've shown that on numerous occasions. The Sounders need to remember that, and they need to find a way to bring their game back to the level at which they're capable of playing. If not, this team is going to have some serious questions to ask themselves during the off-season.
Headed goals from Colin Clark (7th minute) and Brian Ching (23rd minute) put Seattle in an early hole, but a penalty won by Fredy Montero and converted by Alvaro Fernandez brought the Sounders back to within a goal at the break. Houston's game-plan has clearly been to harass and stifle Seattle's creative players with tough (but clean) physical play, and they've executed it to perfection. In the other phase of the game, sloppy defending from Seattle led to Clark and Ching's goals, both players left unmarked in the box and able to head past Keller. Ching's goal came from a fantastic ball in from Geoff Cameron, but to allow a player of Ching's ability in the air so much space in front of goal is a fairly massive failure on the part of Seattle's defense.
As the half has gone on the game has become progressively chippier, with both teams committing some very silly fouls and jawing matches between players taking place with regularity. That's not the kind of thing Seattle can afford to get bogged down in-especially trailing as they are-and if anything they should expect even more physical play from the home side in the second half, as it was clearly quite effective in the first. Much of the quality is there for the Sounders, but in the final third it's gone missing. Seattle needs to find a way to unlock the Dynamo's defense, because a loss to Houston is quite simply not good enough-especially with the Galaxy well on their way to a victory over Vancouver.
The Seattle Sounders enter this game coming off their first loss in competitive play in nearly two months, a 1-0 loss to San Francisco FC of Panama in the first leg of a CONCACAF Champions League qualifier. Seattle needs to get back into a winning groove, and even as the visiting side they'll be in a good position to do so against the Houston Dynamo. Despite having a roster with a good bit of talent, the Dynamo have struggled to put it together this season and sit on the outside of the playoff race in a weak Eastern Conference. With the Galaxy taking on Vancouver and FC Dallas hosting Chivas USA, the Sounders will likely need three points just to keep pace, making this a pretty huge game where Seattle's Supporters Shield chances are concerned.
Good news for Seattle as Tyson Wahl returns from injury. Seattle's lineup is their standard first-choice, but interesting to note that Lamar Neagle is not in the 18 for tonight's match in what the club is calling a "coaching decision." Something to keep an eye on, as Seattle's midfield options off the bench aren't all that appealing should the Sounders need a goal late in the going.
Sounders Starting XI: Keller; Riley, Ianni, Parke, Wahl; Rosales, Alonso, Friberg, Fernandez; Montero, Levesque
Sounders Bench: Ford, Carrasco, Fucito, Gonzalez, Jaqua, Noonan, Scott
Houston Starting XI: Hall; Ashe, Boswell, Hainault, Freeman; Clark, Moffat, Cameron, Davis; Bruin, Ching
Houston Bench: Deric, Dixon, Garey, Robinson, Sarkodie, Taylor, Weaver
The Seattle Sounders travel to face the Houston Dynamo this weekend, and they do so with a multitude of excuses in hand. Most obvious is the travel; 3,650 miles one way with numerous delays followed by another 1,765 miles the other way. The Sounders played their first team just four days ago, and the heat and humidity in Panama surely took something out of those that went a full 90 minutes. The Sounders earned a poor result against San Francisco FC on Tuesday night, and there's bound to be some lingering effect. And then of course there's the Manchester United friendly and whatever hangover there might be hanging over the heads of the Rave Green.
In actuality, very little of that matters in the least. It's not that those factors aren't present and that they won't have some effect on the team. It's that, as legitimate title contenders, they quite simply shouldn't matter. The Sounders have moved into the inner-circle of the Supporters Shield race and though at earlier points in the season there were reasons to justify their under-performance, they've reached a point from which retreat is rather painful. Should the Sounders slip, and draw a less favorable playoff pairing, and exit before an MLS Cup berth, it wouldn't be at all a sign of failure. This is after all just the third year of the franchise, and though they've been one of the better teams in MLS for the majority of these past few months their loss of key players present coming into the season would serve as something of an explanation for underachievement.
But we know the Sounders can be better than that. We've seen it. It's been on display, in their ending of Real Salt Lake's home undefeated streak, or their domination of Toronto FC at home, or the tenacity shown in their double-comeback against the Timbers at Jeld-Wen. This is a damned good team, and no one-in-a-million game against one of the best teams in the world where everything went the way of the Devil or a sloppy performance in the first leg of a home-and-home tie against a spirited but clearly inferior foe should distract us from that reality. The Sounders belong in the discussion of the elite in MLS, and there's good reason to believe they belong in the discussion of the better teams in CONCACAF.
Teams if that stature don't drop points to the current version of the Houston Dynamo, and they certainly don't lose to them. The last time these two sides met, the Sounders were dominant in nearly every phase of the game on their own turf and somehow managed to earn just a point by the skin of their teeth, Steve Zakuani netting the Sounders first goal of the season. Seattle has come a long way since then, and they've done a hell of a lot of growing up. This is a team that has every right to expect three points from this game, and though a failure to secure them would be far from a disaster in terms of their playoff hopes it may very well invoke questions about their includion amongst the league's elite.
Let's be clear; the Dynamo aren't a cupcake, and they're not a team the Sounders should be expected to walk all over. But they are a team Seattle should expect to beat, no matter the venue or the circumstances involved. Should the Sounder emerge without having secured three points it most certainly won't be the end of the world, but it will put them into the realm of outsiders in terms of the Supporters Shield race. And after all that's been accomplished this season, that would be a pretty massive disappointment. With all this team has endured, they've come out right in the mix for every trophy for which they compete. This isn't the time for a letdown. The Sounders need three points, and they need them just as desperately now as they did when their season looked on the verge of collapse. It's far better to be a victim of one's own success than it is to disappoint.