Clint Dempsey scores in the 58th minute in his first regular-season game since last August, but the defending MLS champion Sounders drop a 2-1 game to Houston in their season opener.
HOUSTON — Sounders striker Jordan Morris had an explanation for why the visitors’ locker room seemed more somber than usual after just an initial regular-season defeat.
All week, apparently, the Sounders coaching staff had drilled into players in film sessions, strategy meetings and on-field workouts that they were walking into Saturday’s season opener with targets on their backs. That, as the defending Major League Soccer champions, every team was going to come at them with their best, playing above their means as if a new title trophy was at stake.
And for the opening 45 minutes of this 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo, the Sounders promptly forgot everything they’d been told.
Sounders’ record playing in Houston
“We’re the champs, people are going to come after us,’’ Morris said. “It’s away from home, first game. They’re going to be fired up.”
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Morris said the Sounders made adjustments at the half and were stronger from there. But that it took so long to find the rhythm and style that made them champions last December was fueling the postgame locker room moroseness.
“It’s frustrating,” Morris said. “We know we’re better than we showed. The first half, especially, we didn’t really show it and you always want to get the season off on the right foot. Everyone in this locker room hates losing.”
The Sounders remain winless in Houston, falling to 0-4-4 since their 2009 inception. But it wasn’t the usual hot, muggy Houston weather that did them in this time in front of 20,758 fans at BBVA Compass Stadium on a damp night with temperatures in the high 60s.
No, it was the Dynamo, last-place Western Conference finishers a year ago, bringing the heat this time with a revamped attack that had the Sounders running around in circles early. Houston newcomer Romell Quioto, one of two Hondurans imported from Club Olimpia to bolster an offense that had stagnated along with embattled forward Erick Torres, led a torrid Dynamo attack that came at the Sounders in waves.
The Dynamo nearly scored twice in the opening seven minutes, leaving three men up high for a relentless series of counterattacks. Then, Torres – the designated player known as “El Cubo” — drilled a free kick past a wall of defenders and a leaning Stefan Frei from 20 yards out to open the scoring in the 20th minute.
Quioto then atoned for an earlier miss by putting one top corner to Frei’s left in the 42nd minute.
The Sounders got one back in the 58th minute when Clint Dempsey scored from in close after an initial clearance of a Joevin Jones shot. Dempsey played the full 90 minutes in his first start and non-preseason game action since being sidelined last August by an irregular heartbeat.
But the Sounders never fully recovered.
Sounders’ record playing at Houston
“That is what we learned tonight,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “Teams are going to come out and if we’re not sharp from the minute the referee blows the whistle, that type of performance is going to happen.”
The Sounders were outshot 12-2 in the first half.
Schmetzer at halftime implored his players to regroup by being more patient with the ball and maintaining possession in Houston’s end.
“We were able to just pin them back in the second half and create multiple chances,” Schmetzer said. “That was basically it. It was one correction. A little more patience.”
Dempsey’s goal came after an initial Tyler Deric stop on a shot by Jones, easily the best Sounders player on this night.
“It’s good to join back up with the guys that did so well last season, winning the MLS Cup,” Dempsey said. “I’m just trying to play a part in seeing if we can repeat it.”
But there was no sign of that team early. A foul from just outside the box led to the free kick by Torres, who scored his first Dynamo goal in more than two seasons.
Torres had notched 22 goals in 44 games with Chivas in 2013 and 2014, leading to his big DP contract. His goal-less stretch had become a huge focus as Houston floundered.
Sounders midfielder Gustav Svensson, who replaced the injured Brad Evans at right back, can’t explain why the team seemed to forget everything their coaches warned them about.
“The worst part is that it was expected,” Svensson said. “We talked about it all week. But we didn’t live up to what we were supposed to do. And that’s important because we lost the game the way we played in the first half.”