Seattle Sounders use late drama to keep the hype train rolling

There’s simply something about Houston that drags the dramatics out of the Seattle Sounders.

More than four months ago, the last time Seattle played the Dynamo, the Sounders turned in one of their more laggardly performances of the season and still skipped town with a point thanks to a 94th-minute equalizer from the high-flying Chad Marshall.

They did it again on Wednesday. Slow performance. Houston goal. And a 94th-minute equalizer to make the return trip that much more palatable.

Despite playing on the back foot for much of the match, Houston took a second-half lead via Andrew Wenger to throw the rolling Sounders back onto the offensive. The match certainly looked like a loss until Nicolas Lodeiro slotted home a brilliantly placed pass from Joevin Jones to level terms. It was, like Marshall’s, the last kick of the game.

You almost feel for Houston in this fixture. Almost.

After a swampy 90-minute match that took about 80 to settle into an excitable groove, here’s three things we learned.

Lodeiro The Iron Man

For most, it seemed frankly incredible that Lodeiro managed to start and go 90 minutes in his first match in Seattle just five days after flying into the country. But the more incredible feat has been what’s come afterward. Since joining up with the Sounders almost exactly 30 days ago, Lodeiro has played in all five matches in which he’s been eligible and played all 90 minutes in each of those matches.

And, almost unbelievably, he looked like the freshest starter on the field when Wednesday’s match ended.

Sounders interim coach Brian Schmetzer rested a slew of regular starters, and neither Marshall nor Clint Dempsey even traveled to Texas to save their legs for this weekend’s critical rubber match in Portland. That lent a slightly more disjointed feel to a starting XI that featured Erik Friberg, Alvaro Fernandez, Dylan Remick and Zach Scott in the starting lineup for the first time in the Schmetzer era.

Lodeiro, though, managed to not only find his way onto the field but to go the whole 90 - again - in sweltering conditions. And yet again, he was probably the best player on the field. For either team.

The fact that he saw the match out to its conclusion in switched-on form was never more evident than when he found the corner with his 94th-minute equalizer taken as coolly as you brew coffee in the morning. With so much at stake, Lodeiro simply side-footed Jones’s cross and that was that. The whistle blew seconds after the ensuing kickoff.

Predictably, Lodeiro’s touches were down in Houston. On the road, in a midweek fixture and in adverse weather, you wouldn’t expect him to be a whirling dervish. But he still managed to complete 44 of 54 passes, nearly 80 percent of which came in Houston’s half of the field. He lined up on the right in Schmetzer’s 4-2-3-1 but managed to pop up, as per his touch map, just about everywhere.

Subs Make A Difference

The heat clearly played its part in dousing whatever energy the Sounders carried into the match. The Sounders more or less pushed Houston back over the first hour or so of the match, but as the final 20-30 minutes wore into the final 10-15, the Sounders were considerably weakened. Considering the on-field temperature even by the time the second half kicked off hovered around 90 degrees, that wasn’t so much of a surprise.

The biggest surprise was perhaps in the substitution battle, which Houston managed to win. In the 60th and then 61st minute, Houston brought on forwards Will Bruin and Andrew Wenger, both of whom slotted in as channel-running dynamos looking to stretch the exhausted Sounders back line. Chalk that one down as a net positive for Houston interim coach Wade Barrett, because both made their mark.

It was Wenger who opened the scoring with a rocket into the far corner in the 75th minute to beat Stefan Frei. It was Houston’s first (and only, really) significant goal-scoring chance of the game, and Wenger made it count. Bruin, too, was a dangerous threat and gave the Sounders’ center back duo of Brad Evans and Scott some trouble.

The Sounders too got some mileage out of their subs, notably Jones. Jordan Morris, who entered in the 57th, was gift-wrapped a golden chance by Lodeiro that ‘keeper Joe Willis kicked out in the 71st. And Andreas Ivanschitz was largely quiet, except for a dangerous cross that forced a corner. But it was Jones’ deft low-whipped cross that gave Lodeiro the space and time he needed to pass in the tying goal. And that made all the difference.

No Stopping The Sounders Hype Train

In the 84th minute, it certainly looked as though the Sounders had been robbed of at least a point. A trickling ball looked to get by Willis and cross the line, but despite vehement protestations from nearly every Sounders player on the field, the referee never raised the signal. On replay - of which the referees notably were not beneficiaries - it certainly looked as though the ball crossed the line.

You be the judge.

Whether or not it did or did not, this all had the feel of the first half of the 2016 season, when nothing seemed to work out in the Sounders’ favor. Every break seemed to fall the other way, every goal chance seemed to stay out and every point seemed to diminish in front of the Sounders’ eyes.

This, it would seem, is a different era entirely. Because where there were no points, Lodeiro made sure there was one. Whether or not the ball crossed the line, the Sounders at least took something from Houston at the death. Again.

The point was significant, and not just because any and all road points in MLS are sacred. With the draw, the Sounders extended their unbeaten run under Schmetzer to five games and clawed to within a point of the final playoff position held by the Timbers. When the Sounders and Portland clash this weekend, Seattle can conceivably take ownership of a playoff spot for the first time in months with a win. Even a draw doesn’t hurt that badly considering the Sounders also have a game in hand on the Timbers.

Road games in MLS are notably hard. Road games in Texas in the dead of summer are even harder. Thanks to the heroics of Lodeiro and a sweat-soaked cast, the Sounders are coming home with a hard-earned point.