The Houston Dynamo are the clear underdogs heading into their Western Conference Championship series against the Seattle Sounders. FiveThirtyEight.com gives the Dynamo a 39 percent chance to get past defending MLS Cup champions. But this is MLS and no team is a juggernaut, especially a Sounders team that has been dealing with injuries all season.
Though players like Victor Rodriguez and Osvaldo Alonso are likely to return to the Sounders starting XI from injuries, there’s still no doubting that the Dynamo are dangerous. They are unbeaten in their last nine games and have conceded just three goals in their last seven matches while getting timely goals from an inconsistent, yet talented attack.
Having said all that, there are three things that the Dynamo can do to increase their chances of getting past Seattle:
Take advantage of spaces behind left back
Whoever may be playing left back for Seattle, be it Nouhou Tolo or Joevin Jones, like to get into the attack. Jones collected 11 assists this season, mostly playing at left back, while Nouhou has shown the same propensity to get forward in his 1,232 total minutes this season. With Rodriguez returning, Jones or Nouhou could end up pushing high to provide width, as the Spaniard does not provide much width when playing on the left wing. That kind of aggressiveness can be used against the Sounders as seen earlier in this season.
The Dynamo just so happen to have the perfect player to attack the Sounders’ left side, with Alberth Elis’ speed and power more than capable of taking advantage of the space left behind.
The Sounders are most dangerous when Nicolas Lodeiro and Clint Dempsey are allowed to operate in space the middle of the field. When that doesn’t happen, they are forced to play it out towards the wings and play in crosses. They haven’t been very successful when being forced to do that. In the eight games they attempted more 20 open play crosses, the Sounders went 2-2-4. In the seven games when they attempted fewer than 10 open play crosses, Seattle had a record of 5-2-0. Clogging up the midfield with Juan David Cabezas, Eric Alexander and Alex might be the best course of action for head coach Wilmer Cabrera.
Pounce at the start of the second half
Seattle conceded just 39 goals this season, good for the third fewest in MLS, but more than a quarter of those goals were scored in one 15-minute period of play. The Sounders conceded 10 goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half this season. That 26 percent of goals conceded is the highest percentage any team conceded in the first 15 minutes. Cabrera should be ready to make halftime adjustments to take advantage of this apparent weakness. Former MLS defender Stephen Keel emphasized the point when presented with the information: “It’s clear that the first 15 minutes of the second half will be a critical moment in this series.”