Seattle took a point in Houston in a match where little went right for them, making the regular-season finale against Real Salt Lake a must-win if Sounders want to control their playoff destiny.
If the Sounders have proven one thing this season, it’s that they can never be counted out. They have, however, also made a compelling case that they can never be counted on.
After going down a goal in the second half, the Sounders’ Obafemi Martins provided a fortunate equalizer, and Clint Dempsey was denied late on a free kick, giving Seattle a point after a 1-1 draw at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium Sunday.
The first half was a slog on both sides. Houston (11-13-9), which needed a win to stay in contention for the postseason, seemed unable or unwilling to break down a strong defensive lineup. Seattle (14-13-6), meanwhile, suffered from poor wing play up top and was able to move into the attacking third only by moving the ball up the spine, where opposing center backs were quick to close down on Martins and Dempsey, leaving the duo no room to work.
Seattle finished the first half with only one shot, while the Dynamo managed to put one of their five shots on target.
“They really didn’t come at us that much, not as much as I expected them to,” said head coach Sigi Schmid. “As a result, I think our game was a little bit passive, a little bit slow.”
“Passive” and “slow” became watch-words for the Sounders in the second half. Miscommunication left several passes in open space, where they were plucked away by waiting Dynamo midfielders. Foul trouble began with yellow cards issued to Gonzalo Pineda and Andreas Ivanschitz, and substitute Chad Barrett, while Osvaldo Alonso was lucky to escape the official’s book for persistent rough play. Martins was a rare offense, giving away possession multiple times with flashy back-heels to nowhere.
A misplayed pass from Tyrone Mears provided the occasion for Houston’s go-ahead goal in the 65th minute. Luis Garrido stepped in front of a pass intended for Dempsey, sending the ball into the left alley for Brad Davis. Davis pushed ahead, but picked out Ricardo Clark atop the 18 as Seattle’s defensive line sagged in too far. Clark took his time, firing a low shot into the left side of the net to bring the home crowd to its feet.
Ivanschitz served the corner that provided Martins’ redemption in the 82nd minute. Swinging in a cross from the right corner, the ball curled right between the legs of Houston’s leaping Brad Davis, bouncing up squarely into the face of a stumbling Martins before dropping over the goal line. The celebration was as muted as the goal was uneventful; only a handful of handshakes and a hug. The normally sanguine Martins didn’t even crack a smile.
After the goal, the match opened up a little as Houston desperately sought a game-winner to that would keep playoff hopes alive. The more open style of play suited the Sounders, who have excelled at playing a counter-attacking style.
Seattle nearly snagged the lead courtesy of a Dempsey free kick in the 89th minute, but his effort was turned just wide of the net by a sprawling save from GK Tyler Deric.
After the match, players from both teams collapsed from different mixtures of exhaustion and frustration. Schmid entered damage-control mode, saying that the passivity from his side was his fault.
“It’s on me, I was the one who prepared the team tactically . . . we needed to be more aggressive,” said Schmid.
“If this was the playoffs, tying on the road is good and then you want to win at home.”
Astute readers will note that it is not, in fact, the playoffs. Another fact is that while the Sounders have never beaten the Dynamo in Houston, Sunday’s lackadaisical showing did not have the bearing of a team bound for playoff glory.
Schmid said that Seattle will play more aggressively against Real Salt Lake in the regular season finale Oct. 25. They will have to be more aggressive against RSL — only a win will guarantee the Sounders a postseason berth.