SEATTLE - MARCH 25: Mauro Rosales #10 of the Seattle Sounders FC battles Andrew Hainault #31 of the Houston Dynamo at Qwest Field on March 25, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Though Seattle will be without Mauro Rosales and quite possibly Adam Johannson as well as hosting one of the East's best teams, the Sounders have the necessary quality to enter the game as strong favorites.
The first bit of bad news came on Tuesday, when it was announced that winger Mauro Rosales would miss this weekend's game with a knee injury. Yesterday it was revealed that right back Adam Johansson will be a game-time decision due to a strained hamstring. Sigi Schmid is going to be faced with some difficult decisions ahead of this game, and the timing is far from ideal; after a slow start to last season, the Dynamo heated up towards the en of the year and rode the momentum all the way to the MLS Cup final. That late-season run of form convinced a lot of people that Houston were legitimate contenders for the Eastern Conference crown, and their early season results haven't done much to make anyone think otherwise; two wins, both away, without a goal allowed.
While it's true those wins came against presumed bottom-feeders San Jose and Chivas USA by just a goal apiece, nothing about the Dynamo's performance in either game has shown much to imply those results aren't repeatable against better competition. Houston is very much an old-school MLS side in that they rely on a strong defense, a direct attacking style that places a premium on aerial prowess, the goals from set play. It's the last of those that most worries the Dynamo's opponents. MVP candidate Brad Davis has a deadly left foot, and if Houston can manage to win a free kick or two, they're not going to be out of very many games this season.
Realistically though, set-piece specialists aren't something you can worry all that much about. The Dynamo are probably going to be fouled in dangerous positions a time or two, and so long as the Sounders do not make any egregious errors in terms of marking assignments then whatever happens afterwards is largely out of their control. The risk can be mitigated, but it can never be eliminated completely; that's why players like Davis are so valuable. But on the balance of talent, the Sounders have the upper hand and should be able to control the pace of the game. The more pressing concern will be avoiding wastefulness in the attack and shutting down the other worrisome element of Houston's game, their ability to score on the counter.
The loss of Mauro Rosales is obviously far from ideal, but even without the captain the Sounders have enough talent to break down a stout but far from impenetrable Houston defense. Seattle buried their chances against Toronto FC, and though no one will be expecting David Estrada to pick up another hat trick it's difficult to see the Sounders' attack being shut down completely.This is a tough game and Seattle will be dealing with some major losses, but they're still big favorites; a win for the visitors in this game could change the way a whole lot of people feel about the Dynamo.