Strap up folks! It’s the first leg of the Texas Derby. The Hoops head down to south this Saturday to take on the Houston Dynamo in this week’s MLS matchup.
Houston is in the midst of an uneven run of play having won 2, lost 2 and drawn 2 (not in that order of course) in its last six MLS games. The last game was a 0-0 draw against Colorado and before that, a 3-0 win against Minnesota. Houston is also coming in on a short week, having defeated Sporting KC in the latest round of the US Open Cup on Wednesday night. The win moves the team on to the semifinals. In MLS, Houston is currently two points out of the playoffs, tied for seventh in the Western Conference with Vancouver on 26 points.
Dallas comes in having won last week against the Chicago Fire. The 3-1 win marked the fourth win in their last six games and kept the team atop the Western conference with 38 points. It was a big win as only two other teams in the conference picked up wins and none of the top five apart from FC Dallas.
Formation: 4-3-3/ 4-2-1-3
This week marks the first leg of Texas Derby, the first of three games this season between the two teams. While Houston has the leg up on Texas Derby wins with a 7-5 margin, the totals between the two are more balanced. The all-time MLS record between the two teams has Houston with 10 wins, Dallas with nine, and 11 draws between. This season is shaping up well for Dallas to fix that MLS win total, but since this is only game one of the series we can never be certain.
Coming into this game, Houston’s attack has been on a roll. Scoring two against SKC and LAFC in successive games, and then three against Minnesota shows plenty of potential to score against Dallas. Their trademark counter attack is as indomitable as ever, even if the defense is still a liability. So, it was strange to see them strangled against the lowly Rapids last week, even as they rotated a few starters in preparation for the big games this week. Alberth Elis and Mauro Manotas come into this game with nine goals apiece, or half of all the goals Houston has scored. Elis is having another outstanding season as he has seven assists to go along with the goals. The third member of attacking triumvirate up top, Romell Quioto, has three goals and 10 assists on the season. These three players will be a handful for Matt Hedges and co. to keep reigned in as the match goes on.
Although Houston likes quick counter attacks, when they aren’t in hyper drive they still like to shuffle the ball down Elis’ flank and let him work his defender over. Another key man is Tomas Martinez in the middle, trying to pull the strings for the front three to do work. His four goals and five assists on the season bely his importance to the team’s attack. As the no. 10, Martinez often is charged with sending the ball before the ball that will finish off a Houston attack, like a hockey assist. Dallas will need to keep Carlos Gruezo and Victor Ulloa on top of Martinez to disrupt his influence on the game and close off the faucet for the Dynamo attack.
As for Dallas, it’s hard to say anything other than keep doing what you’re doing. The win against Chicago was a solid team effort, with contributions all over the field. There was Reggie Cannon’s first career assist, a Kellyn Acosta lighting strike, and a PK from Reto Ziegler, courtesy of some hard work by Maxi Urruti and Michael Barrios. In fact, is was probably Michael Barrios best match of the season. He was all over the Chicago back line, sprinting past the outside backs time and again, putting in dangerous crosses to the box. I would also be remiss to not include our defense, which smothered Chicago into surrender; so much so that when Chicago did pull one back, hardly anyone cared to celebrate in the away side.
Key Matchup: Dallas D vs Houston O
This game is a classic case of Irresistible Force vs Immovable Object. Clearly Dallas is not quite the all-conquering defense they were earlier in the season, but, they are still top three in the league in the goals against department. In the same sense, Houston doesn’t feel as dangerous as last season, but, they are still top five in the goals scored column. To be more cliché - somethings gotta give here.
1. Start Another Streak - Almost a month to the day, FC Dallas was blown out by NYRB by a 3-0 margin. Dallas then started a mini roller coaster run with a squeaking win over Minnesota, a come from behind thriller against Atlanta, a nonchalant loss to RSL, and finally a nice win against Chicago. Dallas needs to keep its foot on the gas and pick up, at bare minimum, a point on the road to feel “comfortable” in the Western Conference lead.
2. Rejuvenate Barrios – It was thrilling to see Michael Barrios take control of his side of the field against Chicago last game. He was relentless in attack. He created so many good chances, it feels almost impossible looking back now that he didn’t come away with at least one or two assists and a goal. We need that Barrios in this game (and the remainder of the season) to create multiple good chances and ultimately connect on one or two.
3. Shut Down the Wings – The most dangerous players in this Houston team occupy each flank. Shutting down Elis and Quioto will be paramount for points this game. Each player is comfortable cutting inside to shoot or setup a teammate as well as sending in a cross from outside. It will be a whole team effort to keep Houston off the scoresheet.
The quest for El Capitan begins with both teams still fighting to establish a strong foothold on their respective positions in the league. Houston is struggling with the bottom of the playoff heap, but it would be disingenuous to say they are a poor team. In fact, they may be dealing with the most severe injury problem of any team in the league, with 8 players being out this week. They have a - Dynamic - offense and can put goals up against anyone. With Dallas trying to gain some separation from the top teams in the West, they are coalescing as a strong overall team with good balance all over the field. I believe this balance is what will decide the game. A solid defense to go along with a solid attack is better, overall, than a dynamic attack providing cover for a defense. I think the Texas Derby starts out with a bang for FC Dallas with a 2-1 win over those other guys down I-45.