The Seattle Sounders host the Houston Dynamo on Saturday (7 p.m. PT; JOEtv, YouTube TV, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM; TICKETS) in Week 11 MLS action. Here are three matchups to watch, presented by Toyota.
Brad Smith vs. Alberth Elis
It’s very rare in soccer that a result is determined by a single matchup. But that could be the case on Saturday as Smith and Elis vie for control of the Sounders’ left flank. Elis, who has four goals and five assists through eight matches, is in electric form for the Dynamo, blending elite speed with an innate ability to create chances after eliminating a defender off the dribble. During his first two seasons in Texas, the Honduran winger largely stayed high and wide, shirking defensive responsibilities to generate more opportunities to punish opponents in transition. But this year, he’s added a bit of selective pressing to his game, which means he has a shorter distance to goal when he breaks at speed.
Smith, who has been a revelation at left back, will need to be disciplined defensively, as the Dynamo’s blistering counterattack has already earned four penalties this season. An attack-minded fullback with a cultured left foot, the Australian international will be able to combine freely with Víctor Rodríguez in 2-v-1 situations if he can bypass the first wave of pressure from Elis.
Chad Marshall vs. Mauro Manotas
While the Sounders have already faced upper-echelon strikers this season — Jozy Altidore, Kei Kamara, Nemanja Nikolic and Christian Ramirez, to name a few — Manotas presents the most difficult test to date. He has carried over his strong form from 2018, when he scored 19 regular-season goals, into the new campaign, chipping in five goals and four assists from eight appearances.
Manotas’ danger up top is two-fold: he can create a diverse array of chances for himself off the dribble, and he can run a dizzying two-man weave with Elis in transition. Marshall, who has long been one of the top defenders throughout his 16 seasons in the league, possesses all of the traits to mitigate the Colombian’s influence on proceedings. With his elite soccer IQ and excellent defensive technique, the Sounders center back won’t fall prey to the same mistakes that Manotas has become so effective at punishing.
Nicolás Lodeiro vs. Boniek Garcia
Lodeiro loves playing the Dynamo. The Uruguayan maestro, who has been in scintillating form for the Rave Green in 2019, has four assists in his last two starts against Houston. Pinning down what exactly makes Lodeiro such an unstoppable force in midfield is a difficult task. His technique is excellent. He dictates tempo with his high-volume passing. He’s clever and can dissect an entire defense with a single pass.
For the Houston matchup, it’s important to zero in on his relentless movement off the ball.
Garcia, who provides most of the defensive steel in midfield for the Dynamo, has a difficult choice. Does he follow Lodeiro, thus leaving the back four exposed? Or does he sit in front of the center backs, allowing Seattle’s No. 10 free reign to roam all over the pitch and overload the flanks? Either way, expect big things from Lodeiro on Saturday.