Well, if you told me the end result ahead of time (Seattle 2, Houston 0), I would not have been surprised. But if you told me that Tally Hall didn’t make a single save in the match, Houston dominated possession, and Seattle didn’t score from the run of play, I would have been skeptical.
These are among the reasons why I love MLS. It’s unpredictable all the time, so predicting it can make you look like a genius one second and a fool the next. Aside from the result, which fans of both teams probably expected, here are some takeaways:
1. Patrick Ianni might be back.
Starting ahead of Jeff Parke for the second straight week, Ianni was solid throughout. He’s played well against Brian Ching before, so it wasn’t all that surprising. The real test will come when he faces two forwards with good foot speed. That might not be for a little while, though – Dominic Oduro and the Fire on April 28 might be the next speed demon he faces unless Quincy Amarikwa and Omar Cummings play together for Colorado. Ianni turns 27 this year, and he’s turned out to be another UCLA guy producing under Sigi Schmid, even if he didn’t play for him in college.
2. The central midfield battle was unquestionably won by Seattle, even though Houston had a ton of possession (55.2 percent for the game)/ Je-Vaughn Watson ran all over the place but didn’t have much of an impact, and Adam Moffat really struggled. You have to wonder if Nathan Sturgis will get a look in there. Conversely, Osvaldo Alonso was typically terrific. He’s a bit over-hyped at this point based on the Sounders buzz, but if anybody backs it up, he and Mauro Rosales do. I was in Charleston when Houston faced Alonso in the Open Cup in 2008, and he stood out even then, although not to this degree.
3. Luiz Camargo is a game-changer for Houston. No, the Dynamo didn’t get a rash of shots once he came on, but the difference is noticeable. Camargo’s teammates play him the ball even when a defender is closing him down, because they know he can handle it. His first touch of the game was nearly immaculate to create separation between himself and Alonso, something both Moffatt and Watson struggled with all night. He wasn’t perfect, but his presence will change the entire Houston attack and make the forwards and other midfielders more productive. I have no idea if/how he can gain fitness when the Dynamo don’t play for three weeks, but you will see Houston progress in terms of its play once he’s fit and steady. He’s not flashy like Morales or everywhere like Alonso, but he was a major, major factor in last year’s late-season surge, and with very good reason.
4. Seattle is good yet again. Not news, but worth pointing out. I still rate the Sounders behind LA and RSL, but there’s enough skill there. I’d say it was probably an off night for Seattle, especially with Rosales out, but they still won a home game by multiple goals and were rarely threatened in the second half, the sign of an accomplished MLS team. They should get at least a win and a tie against San Jose (home) and D.C. (away), setting up a three-game test against Colorado (home), Chicago (away), and LA (home) April 14-May 2.
5. Houston can play good soccer. I hear fans around the league complain about how Houston plays negative soccer and is a bunch of thugs who are good on set pieces. Seriously, I heard somebody call the Dynamo ‘thugs’ this season. You could even hear Kyle Martino suggesting at times that Houston might pack it in and play for a tie. Well, they played better soccer than Seattle for most of the night, especially in the first 25 minutes when one- and two-touch passing was the norm. But the payoff is in the final third of the field, and that – not possession soccer – is what Houston was missing tonight.
6. Alvaro Fernandez dives. A lot. Not really news in my book, but a national television audience got a first-hand look at it. I’m still on the fence about Martino’s in-game spot between the benches – summarizing what the coaches are yelling is not always productive, and you could easily have a good sideline reporter do it – but in this case it was a gold mine, because he heard (and told a national audience) the reaction of the Dynamo bench to the flopping. Kudos to the near-side linesman, who you could clearly see telling Brad Davis, “I saw it, don’t worry,” while Fernandez rolled around on the ground holding his face in the late-game incident where Fernandez tried to get Davis thrown out.