Coming off their first victory of the season, the Sounders head down to humid Houston on Sunday hoping to keep the momentum going and win for the first time ever in East Texas. Clint Dempsey scored Seattle’s lone goal last weekend to down Montreal 1-0, and Sigi Schmid’s squad may need to have a few more in them if they want to take home three points in their second road game of the season.
Houston comes into this match with a 1-2-1 record and just four points, which puts them only two spots ahead of the Sounders in the Western Conference. The Dynamo has lost its last two matches, both away to the New York Red Bulls and Vancouver Whitecaps. With Houston’s home record relatively better than its away record, Seattle could be looking at a tough fixture that, at this point in the season, needs to be a win.
Assuming no crazy injury news and the like, here are a few things you should look out for when the match begins at 1 p.m. (pregame coverage on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM begins at 12:30):
1. Lots of goals. Houston’s first three matches of the season (one win, one draw, one loss) were especially interesting for the sheer amount of goals the Dynamo produced. Houston kicked off the season with a wild 3-3 draw at home against the New England Revolution in which the opponents scored one goal in the first three minutes and another three minutes into injury time. This match, along with a 4-3 away loss to New York, shows that while the Dynamo can score a lot of goals, Houston tends to get leaky a bit when it is scoring. Houston’s second match of the season was rather different. The Texas Derby, as the rivalry between Houston and FC Dallas is called, did not disappoint. Despite FC Dallas’ rather successful 2015 season, it came to Houston in Week 2 and was absolutely walloped. The Dynamo scored five unanswered goals on the way to an absolute rout of its in-state rival. For a constantly improving Sounders defense, this will be a tough test. Brad Evans and Chad Marshall will need to be at their best to stop forward Will Bruin (three goals this season), and Osvaldo Alonso should have his hands full in midfield against Andrew Wenger (two assists, one goal).
2. Both sides need to be on their best behavior. Houston has yet to have a player sent off in a match this season and the Sounders have had just one (Oniel Fisher against Sporting Kansas City). But the league as a whole has seen a ton of red cards this season, 16 through the first 42 games. Major League Soccer has been trying to crack down on reckless tackles, which is admirable, but referees have not been great at judging those offenses. Some referees are handing out cautions like candy bars, including the official for this weekend’s match, Ismail Elfath. In the three matches he’s been in charge of this season, Elfath has handed out a league-high 15 yellow cards and two red cards. In last weekend’s Colorado Rapids-Toronto FC match, Elfath sent off a player for a second yellow-card offense in just the 13th minute. In a match that could be very open and high-scoring, the Sounders can’t afford to go down a man, especially on defense. Both teams will likely be trying to play it safe and not give the referee any reasons to go to his pockets.
3. More lineup tinkering up front. Last week, partially due to the international break, the Sounders saw a couple of slight changes to the starting XI that had an effect on the flow of the match. Dylan Remick and Aaron Kovar came in for Joevin Jones and Jordan Morris, respectively. Remick, who was substituted late in the match due to what was later revealed to be a cramp, had a pretty solid match that showed how much he has improved and wants to fight for his position. Kovar, however, was pretty unspectacular, and was replaced by Morris early in the second half. Schmid hinted this week that Morris may need more time on the bench after being thrown into the proverbial fire so quickly, but he still may make a start against Houston. Despite his poor decisions that came after some spectacular runs against Montreal, Oalex Anderson showed that he knows how to flip a game on its head and produce some magic out of thin air. His inclusion would make the Sounders’ gameplan quite different, as none of the club’s other forwards have Anderson’s speed. I definitely don’t see Kovar starting again, but keep an eye on Schmid’s lineup choices on Sunday because it will have a big effect on how the Sounders play in a match that they really need to win.
Spenser Davis also covers the Sounders for Sounder at Heart.