TUKWILA, Wash. – When the Seattle Sounders head to BBVA Compass Stadium to take on the Houston Dynamo in the first leg of their 2017 Audi MLS Cup playoff Western Conference Championship series on Tuesday, history won’t exactly be on their side.
The Sounders have never won an MLS match in Houston, who had one of the most dominant home records in the league this season with a blistering mark of 12-1-4. If Seattle want to buck that ominous historical trend on Tuesday, it will mean overcoming a unique set of obstacles that trips to BBVA always seem to present.
“It’s a tough place to go,” Sounders defender Chad Marshall told reporters after a training session at Starfire Sports Complex last week. “The grass is different, they play this different style, so if you’re not ready going to their place they can get on you early and it’s tough to come back.
“We were fortunate last year to get super late goals [to get two draws], so we have had success scoring there [in the past]. It’s just about keeping them off the board and hopefully poaching one there and being able to come home and doing what we did last series.”
Marshall’s point about the playing surface is one that is likely to be the subject of much discussion in the days leading up to Tuesday’s series opener: The bumpy turf was one of the biggest storylines of Houston’s Knockout Round win against Kansas City and semifinal matchup against Portland.
The Dynamo share BVAA with the Texas Southern University football team. The choppy surface in the semifinal series with Portland led then-Timbers coach Caleb Porter to call it “the worst field I’ve seen in five years in this league.”
“We’ll see what the field conditions are like, I know they had grow lights on the field, I saw some of those [pictures],” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said on Friday. “That’s out of our control. We’ll go down there, we’ll look at the field and we’ll assess it then. I’m sure they’ve worked hard at it to get it in a playing condition. I’m sure because [Dynamo head coach] Wilmer [Cabrera] wants to play good soccer too.”
Sounders forward Will Bruin played in Houston from 2011-2016. He knows all about the external factors that can make BBVA such a difficult venue for visiting opponents.
One such variable that hopefully won’t be an issue this time around, Bruin said, is the notorious Texas heat that has proven difficult for the Sounders to overcome in past trips to Houston.
“The first thing that comes to mind is the heat and weather but this time of year I don’t think it’s going to be too bad,” said Bruin. “If it’s 75 down there, that’s like a winter day, so I don’t think that’s going to affect us too much. And we’ll see how the field is too, it can be choppy or it cannot be choppy.
“But I’m pretty confident with how we play and if we worry about us, we’re one of the best teams in the league. We can go anywhere and win.”