The Seattle Sounders kicked off the Mobil Mini Sun Cup in Tucson, Ariz., with a 3-2 defeat to the Houston Dynamo. Seattle jumped out to an early lead courtesy of goals from Nicolás Lodeiro and Raúl Ruidíaz, but a second-half surge from the Dynamo saw them reverse the deficit.
Seattle opened the scoring in the 14th minute, when Víctor Rodríguez slalomed through a crowd of defenders before laying the ball on a platter for Lodeiro to hammer home on the half-volley from close range. Houston came close to equalizing in the 18th minute, only to be denied a point-blank goal by an acrobatic reaction save from Stefan Frei. The Sounders quickly stormed down the field, with Rodriguez releasing Brad Smith down the left, whose cutback cross was met with a first-time finish by Ruidíaz.
The Sounders rotated a new XI in the 60th minute, with a total of eight teenagers from the Tacoma Defiance and Academy entering the fray. Houston clawed back into the match with a goal from a corner kick in the 70th minute and then equalized ten-minutes later as Ronaldo Peña hammered home a cross. The dynamo completed the comeback in the 88th minute as Marlon Hairston rounded off a clinical counter-attack.
While the match entailed all the usual shortcomings you’d expect from a preseason exercise – wayward passes, heavy touches, etc. – several players put in encouraging shifts that portend a strong start to the 2019 MLS campaign. Lodeiro was his usual industrial self, covering every blade of grass as he linked play and unbalanced the Dynamo’s defensive shape. Rodriguez provided plenty of creativity as he repeatedly received the ball on the half-turn and produced fluid combination play with his attacking teammates.
Stretching the Field
As Sounders FC General Manager Garth Lagerwey noted at training couple of weeks ago, one of the criticisms of the team throughout the 2018 campaign was a lack of pace. But with the pair of Jordan Morris and Smith bursting down the flanks, the Sounders consistently forced the Houston defense to drop deeper. This created acres of space for the likes of Rodriguez, who registered two assists, to carve Houston apart. Smith repeatedly created overloads on the left-hand side, timing his runs to perfection on three occasions as he got behind the Dynamo and played dangerous crosses into the box.
Learning Experience for the Youngsters
While the young Defiance and Academy players will be disappointed with the result, they showed plenty of flashes going forward, demonstrating why the club values the youth movement so highly. Midfielder Josh Atencio, who played as a center back, was impeccable on the ball, consistently playing line-breaking passes and turning out of pressure against MLS veterans.
The young Defiance players were relentless in the press, with Marlon Vargas nearly producing a third goal, only to slip at the last second. Ray Serrano, 16, struck the crossbar from distance, while forward Alec Diaz nearly found the back of the net with a perfectly-timed run and powerful effort that was well-saved by Joe Willis. Azriel Gonzalez came close to setting up the equalizer in the 90th minute with a mazy run and defense-splitting through-ball to Serrano, but his heavy first touch meant Seattle had to settle for a corner. All in all, it was a valuable lesson for the youngsters as they prepare for the USL campaign.