HOUSTON — Both the Houston Dynamo and Seattle Sounders will have to do without key players in Thursday’s Leg 2 of their Western Conference Championship series (9:30 pm CT | ESPN, ESPN Deportes, WATCH PARTY), but the underdog Dynamo see little benefit from the absences on the other side.
Beyond the 2-0 deficit they now carry to Seattle, the Orange will also be without the services of Alberth “La Panterita” Elis and Jalil Anibaba. Both players’ suspension from the second leg results from the same disastrous play in the first leg.
Twenty-seven minutes into the first leg in Houston, with the Sounders already up a goal, Anibaba dragged down Joevin Jones in the Dynamo box to concede both a penalty kick and a straight red card. The ensuing back-and-forth with referee Chris Penso led to Elis picking up a caution for dissent, so La Panterita will miss the second leg due to yellow-card accumulation.
“We’re going to make changes always thinking about the balance of the team. We cannot unbalance the team,” Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera said of the changes he’ll have to make to his side.
“Also, we’re going to try and present a team that’s going to be able to not only play well, but defend when we have to defend, keep the ball and administrate the ball when we have the ball. And then try to attack and create difficulties and score goals when we have those possibilities.”
Houston will miss Elis’ speed and attacking prowess, but one thing the Orange have in surplus is attackers. Cabrera still has the likes of Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres, Mauro Manotas, Romell Quioto, Vicente Sánchez and Tomás Martínez at his disposal. On the defensive side of things, Anibaba’s loss looms larger as Houston’s backline has been shapeshifting in the playoffs amid mounting injuries
Seattle will be without Roman Torres, one-half of the Sounders’ sturdy center-back combo along with Chad Marshall, due to yellow-card accumulation, while Osvaldo Alonso, Stefan Frei, Jordan Morris and Brad Evans are injury doubts. But Houston say it doesn’t change their outlook.
“Over here [in Houston] he was playing and we had some chances, we created some possibilities even though he’s a good defender,” Cabrera said of Torres. “The key for us right now is let’s try to play 11v11. Because that is a very unbalanced game against a team that is very good and has very good players.”
In the latter half of the season, the Sounders were 11-0-6 with a +25 goal differential when Torres started alongside Marshall. Goalkeeper Joe Willis acknowledges that the Sounders losing Torres “might hurt them a bit,” but knows the Sounders are capable of replacing him.
“They’re a strong team. They have a lot of good players and they have a lot of depth. I think whoever steps into that position will, I’m sure, do the job for them — hopefully not,” Willis said. “But we’re not really trying to think about who’s playing and who’s not. It’s us vs. them. We're not trying to focus on individuals."