Another year, another great pre-season full of goals and exciting new players for the Houston Dynamo. Hopefully this campaign will finish a heck of a lot better than the last, even if the Keeper Notes crew thinks otherwise. To prove that new head coach Wilmer Cabrera has everything figured out, they’ll be put to the test against the champions, Seattle Sounders (that still sounds weird, especially how they won).
In what is surely one of the biggest headlines for First Kick is the return of Will Bruin. To say that he left the team on a low note is an exaggeration. For the last two years of his tenure with the Dynamo, he became the focal point of fan and pundit debate and sometimes even vitriol. The Soccer Gods are smiling on his chance to get one up on his detractors. And unlike his final few seasons with Houston, he’ll have a true playmaker behind him in the form of Uruguayan Nicolas Lodeiro.
It still wouldn’t surprise me to see Bruin round Tyler Deric and miss the open net though. Or to bury it.
At this point it could go either way and no matter what happens his return likely won’t be the warmest.
Speaking of players and warm welcomes, this could very well mark the return of Texan Clint Dempsey after heart troubles were discovered last year. He has gotten some game time during pre-season but he is far from fully match fit. Still there are reports that he could start Saturday. Even if he isn’t in perfect match shape, a half-strength Dempsey with some combination of Lodeiro, Bruin and Rookie of the Year Jordan Morris is quite the offense.
Besides Deuce, the Sounders have a few other lingering injury issues. Brad Evans will miss the first month or two of the season while Stefan Frei and Osvaldo Alonso are recovering from ankle injuries.
Despite these issues, they should still be more than capable of putting the hurt on a Dynamo defense that is still coming together. The pickup of AJ Delagarza was arguably the coup of the off-season and should cement the right side of the field in a way that hasn’t been done since the legendary Craig Waibel was kicking butt. Panamanian International center back Adolfo Machado looks really good in pre-season but there is a world of difference between that and the pressure of the regular season. Against the champs. Featuring all of the afore-mentioned players.
Still, the defense is healthy and allowed scant few goals during pre-season. They are also deeper than ever at center back, featuring Machado, Agus, Leonardo and Jalil Anibaba. In a pinch AJ can also fill in, as can Kevin Garcia though it is more likely that he will feature more for Rio Grande Valley than not. If anything goes wrong defensively, it is more likely to happen out wide due to poor runs of form or injury as there aren’t that many great replacements.
Even with Brad Evans out, it still won’t be easy to break down the right flank as Seattle will slot in Gustav Svensson from Sweden. Though new to the league, he is a very experienced player and will be tough to break down. Regardless of who lines up against him, they’ll have a tough matchup but the combination of speed and cutting inside might be enough to open up the defense.
The biggest, absolutely biggest problem will be in the midfield battle between Lodeiro and Colombian midfielder Juan Cabezas. Not only is it tough to mark Lodeiro but he has to reign in his physical play as Ricardo Salazar is the center ref. Yup, he of red card fame will be in the middle and any rough play from Cabezas could make his debut a short one and get the Dynamo off to a rough start.
If he keeps himself in check, and the Dynamo play up to their competition, a draw is well within the cards. Anything but their best, however, and Seattle will win their first game against Houston since April 2015. Put your bets down for an exciting 1 – 1 draw, with Cabezas staying on the field as a bonus.