Seattle Sounders vs Houston Dynamo, Thursday, 29th October (10 p.m. ET; ESPN2, Deportes)
Who is rooting for Seattle in the playoffs? C'mon Seattle! Today, Qwest Field sold out with 35,700 in attendance to watch the Sounders play the Houston Dynamo in the MLS playoffs.
Seattle has become the MLS success story. A club with a large and passionate fan base that shows up for home games in record numbers. The Sounders also become the first MLS expansion club to make the playoffs since the Chicago Fire in 1998 in their inaugural season.
The match will see two outstanding goalkeepers try and keep the ball at bay. Sounder's Kasey Keller with a .92 average goal given up per game matches up against veteran Pat Onstad of the Dynamo with a .97 average.
Keller is one of the few homegrown talents in the Sounders starting squad along with Brad Evans, James Riley, and Nate Jacqua. The rest of the Seattle squad is an international polyglot of players with former Swedish international Freddie Lungberg of Arsenal fame leading the midfield. Another product of the Arsenal youth system, Steve Zakuani is from Congo and plays left midfield. Cuba's Osvaldo Alonso does duty as holding midfielder.
Striker Fredy Montero is from Campo De La Cruz, Colombia and leads the club with 12 goals scored and assisted with 7 others. His form has led to Premiership interest so he maybe gone next season. His countryman Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is part of a Seattle defense with 29 goals conceded, tying Houston for the stingiest defense. Costa Rica's Leo Gonzalez and Jamaica's Tyrone Marshall round up the back four.
In contrast, the Dynamo's overseas contingent is relatively small. They have two Canadians, Pat Onstad in goal and Andrew Hainault, who filled the shoes for injured defender Wade Barrett. They also have the talented Mexican striker, Luis Angel Landin, Houston's first DP and on loan from Cruz Azul. But their marquee players are US nationals, including Brian Ching, Brad Davis, Ricardo Clark, Wade Barrett and Stuart Holden. The last named has Scottish blood but moved to Houston when he was 10 years old, played for the Clemson Tigers, and since his return to the Dynamo has established himself as one of the most exciting prospects in the national team.
The Sounders do it with speed down the flanks with Jaqua on the right and Zakuani on the left. Ljungberg who is in his Arsenal days used to blister defenses with his speed as the left winger has lost a step or more and now plays just behind Montero in the slot. Montero is turning out a bit like Wayne Rooney, in that he scores and creates opportunities for others.
Sigi Schmid's reworked formulation which in the beginning saw Lungberg and Montero founder off page has yielded results. Seattle's attacking quartet have scored 27 goals and assisted in 27 others.
For the Dynamo, Brian Ching again leads the roster with 8 goals and 3 assists, most of them coming early in the season with a leaner recent spell. His is a more lonely contribution with only midfielder Stuart Holden providing some company with 6 goals and 4 assists.
To counteract Seattle's speed down the wings, the Dynamo will have to hold the ball and they have the personnel to do that with Davis, Mullan, and Clark with their experience and Holden as the creative spark who corrals the ball and feeds Brian Ching up front. Ching has had some big moments in the post season with the 2006 MLS Cup final against the Revs being particularly memorable. The Dynamo will miss Corey Ashe, their most improved player in midfield.
Both Seattle and the Dynamo have evenly matched defenses with Geoff Cameron and Andrew Hainault for Houston and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Tyrone Marshall for the Dynamo proving to be standouts.
Pat Onstad will be the busier of the two goalies because Montero is among the top sharpshooters in the MLS with a very high shots on goal average. On the other hand Stuart Holden is a big time player with 5 game winning goals. Montero has one less.
The Dynamo have met the Sounders at Qwest Field before and lost, 1-2 with Houston taking the lead through Brad Davis. Montero equalized and Patrick Ianni scored the winner.
Prediction: Seattle wins again. In front of an electrifying atmosphere with 37, 500 fans. This time by a bigger margin, 3-1.