SBI Playoff Preview: Houston Dynamo vs. Seattle Sounders

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Photo by ISIphotos.com

With apologies to the LA SuperClasico series, there is perhaps no MLS playoff series this year more intriguing and more tough to call than the Houston Dynamo-Seattle Sounders series.

The two-time MLS Cup champion Dynamo take on the expansion Sounders in a young rivalry that showed plenty of promise during the season. You might look at the Sounders success vs. Houston in this year's series, including a 1-0-1 mark in league play and U.S. Open Cup victory, and think that Seattle holds an edge, but a closer look shows that the teams never truly met at full-strength. Houston was missing several players in both losses this year while the Sounders were without Montero for the 1-1 tie in Houston.

So what can we expect? We can expect Houston to be physical, we can expect Seattle to look to run the Dynamo ragged, and we can expect one of the better midfield battles in recent playoff history.

Here is a closer look at the series, which begins tonight in Seattle (10pm, ESPN2):

TOP MATCH-UPS TO WATCH

Ricardo Clark vs. Freddie Ljungberg. Ljungberg was one of Seattle's best players in the second half of the season and we should expect the Swedish start to step up his game at this time of the year. Clark is obviously one of the league's top defensive midfielders and has the athleticism and workrate to make Ljungberg every look he gets, but the way Ljungberg is playing these days Clark may need some help.

Fredy Montero vs. Geoff Cameron. As fun as it is to watch Cameron marauding from midfield, he is the only Dynamo defender athletic enough to contend with Montero's deadly bag of tricks. Some may not realize it, but Cameron and Montero never actually faced off this year, with Cameron missing two of the matches and Montero missing the third. As steady and intelligent as Bobby Boswell is, he can't keep up with Montero the way Cameron can, and Boswell should be able to do the job on Nate Jaqua.

Stuart Holden vs. Osvaldo Alonso. Holden is truly the key for Houston's chances of victory. He is facing a game, but tiring Alonso, whose game dropped off in the second half of the season (no doubt a product of him having not played a season this long before) and Holden has the skills and engine to run Alonso ragged.

Jhon Kennedy Hurtado vs. Brian Ching. The Dynamo attack will need Ching to step it up and his production in the second half of the season just didn't cut it. He had as many red cards (two) as he had goals in the second half of the MLS season and if he can't get back to the player who provided so much to the attack in the first half of the season, then Seattle will have a much easier time defending the Dynamo than most would have expected. Hurtado is a beast who will make sure to physically wear down Ching. Can Ching step up to the challenge?

X-FACTORS

Steve Zakuani and Luis Angel Landin. Yes, Landin is technically a Designated Player so he probably shouldn't be considered the X-factor for Houston, but he's the team's newest attacking player and the player who we haven't seen in the MLS playoffs before. Will he rise to the challenge and show off his pedigree? For Seattle, Zakuani's blazing speed is always a threat, but his finishing has been lacking. If he can keep his shots on target, while continuing to terrorize on the left flank, Houston is in for a long series.

OUTLOOK

This is a razor-thin series to call, and we can certainly see Houston doing what it needs to in order to contain Seattle's attack and score enough to win the series, but we will give the edge to the Sounders. Seattle has played better down the stretch, has more weapons in attack, and will have the opportunity to set the town at a packed Qwest Field in tonight's season opener. Houston's attack has been faltering (its regular-season finale notwithstanding) and the disappointment over its Champions League failure has to be dwelling. Ultimately, it is the issue of recent form that swings this series in the Sounders favor.

Perhaps just as interesting is what will come in game two if the Dynamo are trailing or tied in the series. Last year, Houston came back from New York with the series tied and promptly laid an egg in game two, losing an ugly 3-0 decision to the underdog Red Bulls. How much will that result weigh on the Dynamo's minds come game two?

We give the edge to the Sounders, in a 3-1 series aggregate, to advance to the Western Conference final.

What do you think of the series? Who do you see winning? Which match-up are you most looking forward to?

Share your thoughts below.

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22 Responses to SBI Playoff Preview: Houston Dynamo vs. Seattle Sounders

  1. jtd says:

    all i know is that i am excited to see the massive playoff crowd supporting their home team. 7-8 years ago, i would never have imagined the mls season we’ve had, or the excitment of the playoffs to come.

    all the venues-save NE- could be full houses.

  2. lassidawg says:

    I would like to believe the weather here today will give the Sounders the edge for at least tonight. It will be a nice warm 45 and wet. Nothing quite like Seattle snow.

  3. John says:

    Does anyone know if they opened up the top section for this game. IE Are we going to see 50K plus people there?

  4. Tisha says:

    They added 3,000 more seats in the upper bowl so around 35,000.

  5. DomiNate says:

    It is ugly outside, hopefully the rain will throw Houston off their game.

    I heard they opened the first eight rows of the upper deck, adding 3,000 more seats. That way they didn’t have to take down the tarp covering the higher ones.

  6. d1ddy says:

    They advertised a capacity of about 33,000 on saturday during the dallas game when they announced they would be opening up 3000 additional seats. Not sure if they have opened up any more though…

  7. nico says:

    My understanding is…they opened up the first 8 rows of the upper deck (3,000 seats). Not sure how many they sold.

  8. gigi says:

    35700 tickets distributed, sold out for seats available. People will show up in droves. Town is abuzz with media coverage, and fans on all local sports forums are biting nails waiting to get off work..heading to bar with the ECS now!

  9. Emerald_City_Jason says:

    They sold out the additional 3,000 sometime Sunday night or Monday morning—except for the odd single. Should be up around 36,000. I’ll be the one wearing the Sounders scarf in 315.

  10. Sean M says:

    Can’t wait for this one,its always fun watching games in Seattle,it would be even better with some rain. Looking for holden to step it up even more this serious,this is when the Dynamo will need him. Getting some Starbucks in your honor Seattle. I see Houston advancing in this tough series.

  11. Matt (NES-soundersFC) says:

    Both teams are loaded.

    Solid goalkeepers, stout backlines, flexable mids and rumbling, bumbling forwards (Nate and Brian).

    This is going to be a WAR.

    The match and series probably will come down to the Holden – Alonso and Clark – Lundberg matchups.

    Can Oz stay all over the scot in Seattle’s back, and is Richardo really heathly.

    Alonso will make mistakes and Holden will win that battle. I think Richardo is not 100%, and that is not enough to stop Freddie.

    Freddie has more quality than Holden and that will be the difference.

    Seattle 2-0 tonight and then 1-1 draw or 1-0 Houston on 11/8.

  12. Gilby says:

    There is a lot of pressure on the Dynamo in this one. If Seattle looses its still a successful season. If the Dynamo lose that will be two straight first round exits for one of the best teams in MLS. I think Houston comes out tight and tired and goes home with a 2-0 loss.

  13. Kobao says:

    great breakdown of the matchup ives. i agree this is a tough matchup to call for sure…also a lot of subplots with ianni and jaqua coming from houston to the sounders, ching starting his career in spokane then going to the usl sounders then to SJ/Houston and the results from earlier this year. will be interesting if sigi plays jaqua in a wide midfieldish role as he has lately or if he goes for pace to stretch the defense apart.

    all in all i just can’t wait! the matchups in the playoffs this year are great but this particular one, granted i am biased, is a very intriguing/exciting.

  14. Matt says:

    Currently a dreary 48 degrees and raining in Seattle…perfect weather. Expect a raucous and drunken 36,000 in the stands tonight screaming their heads off!

  15. Chief Seattle says:

    Game officially sold out, with about 35k expected.

  16. jpc says:

    I can’t wait, this series is gonna be phat

  17. Ne-Dub says:

    I can’t believe all this match up/x-factor talk and no mention of Brad Davis. He will cause just as much havoc if not more than Montero or Zakuani will create, if not more.

    Tie tonight, 2-0 Houston in Houston. Forever Orange!!!

  18. madmax says:

    If Freddy Ljungberg can keep his cool and not get involved with the officials Sounders might take this one. For some reason, when Freddy sdtarts barking at the officials the whole team loses its focus.

  19. DL says:

    How about matchup of Mullan and Zakuani? That is going to be awesome IMO. Mullan has a motor that just runs all day and has a habit of getting under his opponent’s skin. Think it is 1-0 Seattle, 1-0 Houston in Houston and I see it being decided on PKs. This is by far the best match up. No matter I will be at the Rob next Sunday.

  20. Jeter says:

    If the weather were good and were playing on regular grass, I’d say Dynamo all the way but…. the weather is terrible and they’re playing on fake grass so Seattle definitely has a good advantage.

    But I want the Dynamo to win the series and they will, just maybe not tonights game.

  21. DL says:

    The Dynamo know how to play on a shitty field wheter it be caused by the weather or not. I guess that is the University of Houston’s contribution to the cause.

  22. brokejumper says:

    I actually think the weather will hurt Seattle more than Houston. We rely much more on short passing game and now our offense will likely go more through long balls to Jaqua on the wing.

    It is a tough series to call and hear is to hoping it will be a couple of great games either way.

    I will say though that Houston had better hope we don’t come out ahead tonight as I would not want to face the Sounders with a goal or two in hand sitting back and countering all day.