The Houston Dynamo have improved in a big way this season and a large part of that improvement is their new forward Sebastian Ferrerira. The 24 year old Designated Player has scored four goals and assisted one more over nine starts, but his fourth is clearly the best of the bunch so far, and it’s one anybody would be hard pressed to top. Only five minutes into the match, he opened the scoring of their game versus Austin FC with a goal from midfield.
It’s not only that it takes a lot of confidence and good vision to catch the keeper out from that distance but also the execution not to send the ball ballooning into the stands has to be perfect. Ferreira’s was. Austin pushed forward and Brad Stuver ventured out of his own box and support. So when Ferreira sound himself on the ball, he seized his moment. Stuver almost made it back and even got a hand on the ball, but a keeper has to be aware that players will try things like this.
Adding insult to injury, Stuver ended up being subbed from the match as he suffered a right knee laceration while diving from the shot. He was replaced only nine minutes in by Andrew Tarbell. Not exactly a dream outing for Austin’s number one.
Aside from one particularly attractive attacking sequence, there weren’t a whole lot of memorable or even particularly notable moments from the Seattle Sounders’ 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday. Well, aside from the fact that the Sounders won a midweek road game on short rest and got their first shutout of the MLS campaign, anyway.
But let’s focus on those big-picture takeaways first.
More than anything, this win was a bit of a stress test for the Sounders and it sure looks like they passed. It’s been well established by now that the Sounders spent most of the first two months of the season setting themselves up for what turned out to be a successful run at becoming the first MLS team to win Concacaf Champions League.
One of the main ways that manifested itself is in how Brian Schmetzer chose to rotate his lineups. This was the Sounders’ 11th match to be played on less than five days’ rest this season. In most of those, especially those that came on the road, Schmetzer has chosen to rotate at least part of his lineup. Against the Dynamo, however, he effectively ran back the same group that had beaten Minnesota United on the weekend.
“That group of players actually earned the right to play,” Schmetzer explained. “For that group to kick the rust off, they needed to go back out there again and show what they can do. That was the reason for keeping basically the same starting lineup.”
Perhaps the most notable player in that group was Jordan Morris, who the Sounders have been especially careful with due to his “sprinter” characteristics. But after looking at Morris’ physical metrics, Schmetzer opted to give him a shot.
Morris, like several of his teammates, definitely looked to be feeling the strain at points. There were a couple runs later in that match where it looked like he simply ran out of gas, and he was ultimately pulled in the 77th minute. But he also rewarded Schmetzer’s faith, playing the penultimate pass that led to Raúl Ruidíaz’s goal.
The whole goal sequence as a whole was easily the match’s highlight. It started with Xavier Arreaga jumping a passing lane in Houston’s end to create the turnover and featured 22 consecutive connected passes — nine of which were nominally attacking in nature and all but two of which were in the attacking half — with every outfield player getting at least one touch. The final part of the play saw Nicolas Lodeiro clip a ball to Morris, who then whipped a cross through the box to Alex Roldan on the opposite wing. Roldan then one-touched his pass back to Ruidíaz in front of goal, where he blasted it through a defender.
Although the Sounders never put together a sequence nearly that aesthetically pleasing in the match, it was a good reminder of just how good this team can be when they have something like their ideal XI on the pitch together.
More broadly, the performance was exactly what the Sounders needed to show they were capable of, grindy and sloppy as it seemed at times. Not only did the Sounders generate slightly better chances by Expected Goals (1.3-1.2), they also won all the effort metrics like tackles, duels, blocks and interceptions.
After a slow start to league play, the Sounders now find themselves just two points out of a playoff spot with at least two games in hand on virtually the entire league. The Sounders can potentially jump into a playoff spot if they beat the Colorado Rapids on Sunday.
“We sang Jingle Bells and we had a clean sheet,” Schmetzer said in the postgame press conference, striking a slightly different tune than he had in his on-field interview at halftime. “No one is going to care in September or October how or why we won the game.
“That is a happy locker room. I’m a happy coach. There are happy assistant coaches and I think the whole club should be pleased with the result. It’s a six-point swing against someone who was ahead of us, it puts us in great shape to end the week on a high. I’m not frustrated at all.”
Team of the Week (3-4-3, left to right): Brad Stuver (ATX) – Alexander Callens (NYC), Damion Lowe (MIA), Ruben Gabrielsen (ATX) – Xherdan Shaqiri (CHI), Jamiro Monteiro (SJ), Hany Mukhtar (NSH), Sebastian Driussi (ATX) – Lucas Cavallini (VAN), Raul Ruidiaz (SEA), Daniel Salloi (SKC)
“He likes to play between the two center backs, he likes to lead the line, he can run behind the line and stretch the line, which I like,” Herdman said back in November. “I think that is a facet that can help complement other players and the way that we play. Often when we play with that No. 9 in Johnny [David] or Cyle [Larin], they want to be receiving in those pockets of space off the front. At times, we get left with a line that is not stretched. That space doesn’t really open up. I think Ike gives us that opportunity.”
Ugbo only played 53 minutes during the Octagonal across four substitute appearances. It’s clear, though, that he can be an impactful player, even off the bench, so giving him a start to build chemistry with either David or Larin would behoove everyone. If they find that connection on the pitch now, it’ll be a seamless change when Ugbo checks into a game at the World Cup.
More than anything, Ugbo deserves a shot given his strong finish to the season in his first proper run in a top-five European league. Herdman has constantly spoken about wanting his players in “Tier 1” leagues, now it’s time to reward those who transition to that environment without a hitch.