The Houston Dynamo open up the 2017 MLS regular season with a very tough test against the defending MLS Cup champions, Seattle Sounders FC. After a poor start to 2016, the Sounders turned things around midseason en route to their cup run, and feature one of the most dangerous attacking trios with Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, and Nicolás Lodeiro.
Seattle can hurt you in different ways. With Morris, you have a direct option behind defenses but also a talented young soccer player that can combine with his midfield. His rookie season was outstanding and he led the line to an MLS Cup after Dempsey went out with health issues.
Lodeiro is exceptional and changed the entire complexion of the Sounders upon his arrival. The problem he will pose the Dynamo is that he shows up in many differing areas of the field during a match. The Dynamo collectively will have to be aware of him and his movement. I am taken aback at the desire and professionalism the Uruguayan—not to mention the complete skill set he brings off the dribble, in tight areas, via the pass, and as a goalscorer. In the second half of the season after his arrival, he was the league MVP.
It is great that Dempsey is healthy, most importantly, but his danger is in his unpredictability and, along with Lodeiro, his ability to improvise. I am interested to see how the U.S. legend integrates back in to head coach Brian Schmetzer's team, as he did not play much of a part in the amazing season turnaround that led to an MLS Cup in 2016. This trio has it all: skill, pace, power, ideas and the ability to hurt you individually.
Defensively, they are a tight unit in a 4-2-3-1 and we all know the influence and edge that Ozzie Alonso brings in combination with Cristian Roldan in front of a back four with towering center backs Roman Torres and Chad Marshall. Stefan Frei was superb in goal last year and most will remember "The Save" off Jozy Altidore in the MLS Cup Final that helped lead them to the penalty kick win.
But with all the mention of individuals it is the collective nature of their defending that impressed. Outside of Dempsey, they all defend when the ball is lost.
The new-look Dynamo truly now look to have a wide game that brings speed, power, pace, penetration and creativity with Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis. The Dynamo must utilize the width through these two players with support from behind from outside backs DaMarcus Beasley and A.J. DeLaGarza against Seattle.
The Sounders have a selection issue at right back with injury to Brad Evans, and in order to coax either Roman Torres or Chad Marshall out of the middle, the Dynamo will need penetration out wide. If you do that, then either Erick Torres or Mauro Manotas will be able to find more space. Keep an eye on the Dynamo wide game.