Seattle 1 – Houston 1: The Sounders Bust their Losing Streak

A raucous collection of fans filled the stands at Qwest field in Seattle on Friday night in hopes that their own enthusiasm might help their boys turn around a disappointing start to the 2011 season (two 1-0 losses). Indeed, the energy was there, but the finishing was not. Let’s take a look at each team’s approach to this less than stellar draw.

Seattle’s Strategy

Sounders manager Sigi Schmid doesn’t bend over backwards in search of creative formations and instead plugs his talented players into a traditional 4-4-2. A dangerous chemistry seems poised to develop between the two forwards–Montero and White–but has yet to bring fruit. This despite an arsenal of offensive minded support from the midfield:

Seattle's starting XI: A very talented midfield sits behind Montero and White

  • Jamaican left midfielder  Zakuani has great feet and frightening one-v-one skills and loves pushing up alongside his forwards inside (or just outside) the box.
  • Center midfielder Alonso has a cannon-like shot from distance and is a constant threat from well outside the 18.
  • Right midfielder Friberg plays as a traditional natural winger and seems to constantly spray dangerous crosses into the 18.

On a wet turf pitch the pace was frenetic and initially that seemed to suit Seattle. In the first 15 minutes it looked as though they could easily have the game in their pocket before long. There were flashes of cheekyness from Montero, speed from White, and Pele-like skill and prowling from Zakuani. Turnovers, poor passes and defensive errors plagued them, however, and that’s not even counting their inability to finish. All due props to Dynamo keeper Hall, who made some fantastic saves, but on several occasions the Sounders should have heard ball hitting net.

They missed their opportunity to slow down a bouncy, over-pacy first half and instead a conceded free-kick turned into a Houston goal just before half.

Houston’s Strategy

In what looks like might be a common occurrence this MLS season, Houston fielded a 4-4-2 that virtually mirrored their opponents’. This isn’t the Dynamo squad we know from championship seasons past, and there is a clear sense that manager Dominic Kinnear is rebuilding with youngsters like rookie right back Sarkodie and forwards Bruin and Garey. Veteran left midfielder Brad Davis wears the captain’s arm band and he and right midfield counterpart Ashe seem to hold the reins of this still developing team.

For most of the first half Houston dealt with the fast pace, rain and bouncalicious pitch on their back foot, desperately clearing balls from their box and breaking up play only to quickly turn it back over. In a way this was a lot like watching a pinball machine. Keeper Hall kept the Dynamo in the game, even after an almost critical error by the center backs left Zakuani with a clear scoring opportunity.

It wasn’t at all pretty, but just before half a well-struck free kick beat Sounders keeper Keller, but not the crossbar, and Cameron was able to turn the rebound into a deflected shot that once again hit the crossbar and bounced just past the line.

Adjustments

Seattle had been playing long balls and crosses throughout the first half as if they had an 8-foot target man up top. Well, in the 2nd half they replaced the quick but not hungry enough White with big man Jaqua. Not that Jaqua was able to connect with any crosses, but his presence made the soaring balls from Alonso, Friberg and others more of a realistic threat for the Houston defense. His presence in the box on Seattle’s many corner kicks was also enough to make the Houston markers nervy, and late in the game it was indeed a corner kick that rolled across the Houston box and right to the feet of Zakuani, who probably could have finished it just by thinking about it. Though Jaqua had nothing directly to do with the goal, his presence in the box drew Houston’s attention from the obvious–a low roller across the mouth of the goal.

Another effective adjustment by Seattle was the introduction of playmaking center midfielder Rosales. His hustle, creative spark and ability to hold the ball and calm the game seemed to give Seattle the wherewithal to finally slow down their direct attack and get a little more subtle and sophisticated.

Late in the game Houston brought on veteran Ching, who didn’t see enough of the ball to make an impact, but did miss one opportunity to put away a header that would have broken the hearts of the many thousands at Qwest field.

Lessons for the rest of MLS

Seattle has everything right except the ability to finish. When they get that polished up, they just may have one of the the most talented 4 man midfields in the league.

Houston has work to do, but don’t come out counting on 3 easy points, even at home.

2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Blake Owen says:

    How did Bruin look? He got a lot of attention in the preseason but I haven’t had a chance to watch him yet.

    • bensten says:

      Wasn’t really a presence but the Houston midfield wasn’t exactly feeding him either. He’ll be interesting to watch over the course of several games.

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