Seattle Sounders FC flew from one city that cares about soccer to another on Friday.
When the Sounders meet the Houston Dynamo at noon Sunday in the decisive match of their two-leg playoff series, a rally-towel-waving crowd of around 25,000 is expected. And while that should leave about 7,000 empty seats at Robertson Stadium, two Sounders who should know say the fans in attendance will bring passion with them.
“It’s a little bit like it is in Seattle, with the rabid fans,” said forward Nate Jaqua, who spent the previous two seasons in Houston before coming to Seattle in the expansion draft. “It’s not to the degree where we packed the stadium every game, but the fans are good. There’s a lot of energy and they’re loud, banging on things. They’ve got some drums in the end zone, and they’ve got all sorts of banners.”
Houston fans made much the same impression on Seattle defender Patrick Ianni, who arrived in a trade after spending his first three MLS seasons in Houston.
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“They come out strong,” Ianni said. “Their fans will be loud, and it will be a good atmosphere.”
That hasn’t been the case across Major League Soccer so far in this postseason.
An announced crowd of 7,416 showed up in New England for the Revolution’s series opener against Chicago. There were 11,499 on hand at Real Salt Lake for the first leg of its series against the defending-champion Crew. And on Thursday, for the decisive second leg at Columbus, 10,109 turned out in Ohio for the home team’s season-ending loss.
Meanwhile in Houston, the last of the lower-bowl seats sold out early this week. Then on Friday, the city observed what mayor Bill White proclaimed to be “Dynamo Day.”
“Soccer is one of the fastest-growing sports in Houston, so we really appreciate having a team of the caliber of our two-time MLS champions,” White said in a release. “Win this weekend, and let’s make this year Championship No. 3.”
The Sounders will be trying to prevent that. The winner of this game goes on to the Western Conference final against the winner of the Chivas USA-Los Angeles Galaxy series. The loser’s season ends.
Sounders FC won three of its final four road games, so coach Sigi Schmid expressed confidence in his club’s ability to survive hostile environments.
However, the Sounders and Dynamo played to a 1-1 draw in their only previous game at Robertson. And Schmid admits that the 115-by-70-yard pitch squeezed into the University of Houston football stadium can affect the game as much as the crowd.
“It’s like 550 square yards less of space,” Schmid said. “It makes it easier to close things down and put pressure on the ball. It makes the game a little more of a bang-bang game. But we had good success there last time, and we had success on the small field in Kansas City as well.”
The Sounders may notice one difference from their earlier visit to Robertson.
The first match was played Aug. 23 – just before the start of college football season. Since then, the Houston Cougars have played four home games on the natural-grass field, perhaps affecting its surface.
“It depends,” Ianni said. “(In 2007) it was all right. Last year, it got pretty chewed up. They rolled it pretty good, and that made it flat, but it was pretty hard. I don’t know if that was from no rain. I’m curious to know what the condition the field will be in. A lot of times it will be really good, but there are times it can get beat up.”
The weather forecast for Houston on Sunday calls for afternoon highs in the mid-70s and a chance of thundershowers.
Defender Tyrone Marshall (knee) trained Friday, and Schmid said if there are no setbacks he should be able to go Sunday. ... Sounders FC is inviting fans to greet the team when it returns to SeaTac Airport at 10 p.m. Sunday. Details on the Sounders Insider blog or at soundersfc.com.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808