Preseason soccer in Tucson
Houston bench leads comeback vs. Sounders
Hairston, Peña combine for 2 for Dynamo; Seattle’s Morris makes return to field
Saturday night's Mobile Mini Sun Cup match at Kino North Stadium was a tad warmer than Wednesday night's and, unlike Wednesday's scoreless draw, featured some goals. It took Houston Dynamo's bench players to get the job done in the last minutes of the match, earning the team a 3 - 2 win.
For fans of the two teams, the squads on the field for the first 60 minutes that were likely more indicative of what the season will look like. Houston had its powerful strike trio of Mauro Manotas, Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto up top anchored by the new center back pairing of Aljaž Struna and Maynor Figueroa. Seattle and U.S. national team fans were treated to seeing Jordan Morris, out with an injury since a Champions Leage match last February, causing havoc to the Houston back line early on.
Victor Rodriguez sent the ball to Nicolas Lodiero for Seattle's first goal in the 14th minute. Only a few minutes later, Monotas nearly equalized but for the point-blank intervention of Sounders netminder Stefan Frei. An unmarked Raúl Ruidíaz, a Peruvian striker that joined the Sounders last summer, scored in the team's second in the 18th minute.
Despite Houston's high powered front line, they were unable to generate many chances until the second half. Soon after the break, they earned a penalty kick when an Manotas was brought down in the box. Romell Quioto sent it over the crossbar. Still, earning the penalty was a sign of some new life in Houston's offense.
Seattle changed out their entire line-up shortly after the hour mark, bringing in players from their academy and lower division affiliate Tacoma Defiance. Despite Houston being down to 10 men after a red card to Aljaž Struna, they took advantage of the less-savvy players. Juan David Cabezas scored the first for Houston within minutes after Seattle's Trey Muse couldn't get control of an earlier shot.
After minute 75, it was Houston's turn for mass substitutions. They included Marlon Hairston, a much-talked-about new signing, and striker Ronaldo Peña. Hairston sent the ball to Peña for Houston's tying goal. A few moments later, roles were reversed and Peña got the ball to Hairston to earn Houston its third goal as the minutes slipped away.
The win was the second for Houston over Seattle for the day as they had scrimmaged Saturday morning. Houston recorded a 1 - 0 in that match after a Seattle own goal.
Houston has its last Tucson match at Kino on Wednesday at four against Sporting Kansas City with Seattle following against the Portland Timbers.
Yes, but does it count?
After the match, Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei talked about the importance of preseason matches like the two his team played on Saturday.
"Confidence doesn't just come from practicing on a practice field," he said. "It comes from trying to apply things in games, games where the stakes aren't as high as they are in a season."
Preseason is about building the confidence that Frei mentioned, but also perfecting tactics, evaluating players, building teamwork as well as giving players minutes to get their fitness up to being able to grind out 90 minute matches once a week when the season gets started.
Those goals can conflict with each other, and different coaches will put an emphasis on different goals as the preseason progresses. It's why a game like Saturday night's can make it hard for a fan to evaluate how a team will play when the season starts in March. In this particular match, those decisions led to a match that was a few bubbles off level.
From roughly minute 60 until minute 75, Houston's starters were playing against younger Seattle players, including teenagers from their academy. Even after Houston made it's change ups, the group included veteran players like Óscar Boniek Garcia and Tommy McNamara against what Houston coach Wilmer Cabrera admitted was a line-up of "kids" for Seattle. Still, he believed it was a challenge.
"Even though it was an inexperienced group, they had to score three goals in fifteen minutes and had to do it with ten men, which is positive," he said. "It shows commitment and mentality. But, we need to continue working."
Still, Frei did not want to call it a loss for Seattle.
"We were two-zero up with the first squad," he said. "If Houston wants to claim they won that game that's great, but they played our academy."
FC Tucson represent!
Among the players Seattle brought in after hour mark were two former FC Tucson players, Kyle Van Alstine and Amr Mokhtar. Midfielder Van Alstine came in as a substitute after an injury in minute 70 and Mokhtar took an elbow to the face while tenaciously guarding the right side of the box, earning Seattle a dangerous free kick.