Sorry Houstonians, but I'm with Landon on this:
With tomorrow’s Western Conference Finals between Seattle and Houston already decided, what scoreline are we predicting for tonight’s match between @TorontoFC and @ColumbusCrewSC ??? Catch it live on @FS1 at 7:30PM EST with me, @stuholden and @JohnStrong on the call— Landon Donovan (@landondonovan) November 29, 2017
I think Seattle ended this series in the first leg by hanging a pair of goals on the Dynamo. I just don't see how Houston figure out a 3-1 result or better in Thursday night's Leg 2 (10:30 pm ET; ESPN & ESPN Deportes in the US | TN1 & TVAS2 in Canada).
But there's a reason they play the game, right? Strange things can happen in this league.
Seattle's tactical plan: Capitalize on turnovers
The Sounders are without Roman Torres (yellow card accumulation), and likely without Ozzie Alonso (injury), and... yeah they're still going to be fine. They might have to shuffle some pieces around – Gustav Svensson at center back? Nicolas Lodeiro as the No. 8? – but they've shuffled before, and mostly come up aces.
And in this case, they can shuffle with the knowledge that Houston's going to have to get on the ball and carry most of the play. The Dynamo have to go out and score at least two goals, which they're not going to be able to do unless they push numbers forward. Pushing numbers forward, of course, comes with risks specifically around turning the ball over. Turning the ball over leads to counterattacks. Counterattacks lead to goals:
Don't expect Seattle to dominate possession. Do expect them to generate chances like this one.
Houston's tactical plan: Spread Seattle from touchline to touchline & go in isolation
The Dynamo can't afford to get cute and can't afford to be passive. They've got to go out from the first whistle and drive at the Sounders with numbers using the whole width of the field.
Here's how that looks:
Key to this: Wilmer Cabrera has to drop his fascination with Alex as a winger and start three true attackers across the frontline. Maybe that means giving Vicente Sanchez the go-ahead from the first minute, or maybe it means Mauro Manotas as a sort of miscast winger with Cubo Torres as the center forward, or maybe it means Andrew Wenger?
Whatever the case, there's no use playing conservative for Cabrera. Go out like Butch & Sundance, please.
X-Factor Part 1: I'm gonna say Eric Alexander again
He didn't have a great game in Leg 1, but he's good enough to control things and put those wingers into space like he did against Portland, especially if Seattle are playing without a true defensive midfielder.
It's not just that, though. It's the fact that if Alexander plays his best and Lodeiro is used as a No. 8, it will make Lodeiro a more defensive and less influential attacking player.
X-Factor Part 2: Chad Marshall's fitness
He's 33, and he's just crested 35,000 professional minutes, and he's already had one minor knock this postseason. If he takes another, then suddenly the door's open for Houston.
Match-up No. 1: Joevin Jones vs. whoever's at right back for Houston
If Alonso's out and Svensson is used in central defense, that leaves Roldan as the No. 6. He can do the job, but is much more of a No. 8. It's not that Martinez will be able to totally lose him, but rather Martinez should be able to trouble Roldan in terms of distribution and tempo-setting – two areas in which he struggles anyway, and two ares that could lead to exploitable turnovers.
What's it all mean?
I just don't think the Dynamo have a chance. Great season, lots to build on going forward, but put a fork in this series.