In 2020, Houston Dynamo finished at the bottom of the Western Conference with a record of 4-9-10. They weren’t good in Tab Ramos’ first year in charge. And many of the preseason predictions argued that they would continue to be bad this year. Ownership in Houston has been slow to invest in high-end DPs – gone are Alberth Elis and Mauro Manotas and in have come some familiar MLS journeymen. But they’re not difference makers. The roster suggests that they just don’t have the players to be consistently dangerous.
Our friends from the land of intensely high humidity and annual flooding come into this week’s match 1-1-1 with their latest result being a lackluster 1-1 draw against LAFC (are they still LAFC if Carlos Vela isn’t in the line-up?). Yes, it was raining. Yes, the playing conditions were a bit sloppy. But that’s Houston in spring. Anyway, the week before was a 2-1 loss to a heavily-rotated Timbers, and the Dynamo opened the season with that 2-1 win against San Jose that had me feeling so optimistic about our match with the Quakes. Looking back to that one, I think San Jose’s man-marking system actually helped Houston – they don’t play well against a prepared defense so the open play aids Houston’s run and gun style. If they could finish, that match would have been a blowout.
So what’s coming?
Some familiar faces: Fafa Picault. Maxi Urruti. We might even have a Maynor Figueroa sighting – but he’d only be on the field if the wheels come off. Now I love Fafa and Maxi as much as any FC Dallas fan, but we all know how offensively productive they are. If they were consistently productive, they might still be in Dallas. Houston will likely line up in a 4-3-3 and the former Dallas attackers are two-thirds of it – which means they have speed and will press constantly... but they’re just not good finishers. On the right-wing for Houston will likely be newly signed (and Houston Player of the Month) Tyler Pasher. Most recently Pasher played for USL-Championship side Indy Eleven and before that he played for Swope Park Rangers. Let’s call him a late bloomer. Last week he got on the end of a Fafa Picault cross to score the lone goal for Houston, and against Portland, he was consistently a nuisance and took advantage of Claudio Bravo throughout the game. Portland’s own goal was the result of Pasher’s pass into the box. He is the attacker most likely to cause concern. Off the bench, Tab Ramos has called on Ariel Lassiter and 2020 leading scorer Darwin Quintero – neither of whom have been effective enough to claim a starting role.
In the middle, Joe Corona (who spent last year with the LA Galaxy) sits deep and joins Houston Homegrown Memo Rodriguez and Matias Vera to form a defensively solid core. Playing in the most advanced midfield role, Rodriguez has a goal from the San Jose game but favors shots from outside the box that seems more likely to end up in the stands than the net. But don’t be surprised when Houston completely bypasses its own midfield to push the ball forward.
At the back, recent import Tim Parker anchors the backline. Longtime Dynamo midfielder Boniek Garcia has been playing beside him to start the year. Left-back Adam Lundkvist has been steady and earned an assist against San Jose but had zero assists in 21 starts in 2020. Similarly, on the opposite side, Zarek Valentin had three assists last year. I point this out because while they offer support in possession, the fullbacks simply aren’t contributing much to Tab Ramos’ attack.
Keys to the Game:
1) I haven’t mentioned the keeper yet and I’m going to share some statistics from Rudy Segura at Dynamo Theory on Marko Maric: “Maric is fourth in Major League Soccer in attempted launched passes, passes longer than 40 yards, with 57 attempts. He has completed only 18 of those passes, however, just 31.6%. For comparison, Atlanta United’s Brad Guzan, who leads MLS with 69 attempted launched passes, has completed 36 of them, more than half. Maric has also launched 68.6% of his goal passes, second-most in MLS, meaning he does not pass the ball short to his backline very often.” From what I’ve seen, Maric has been a solid shot-blocker this season and Dallas will need to work to get the ball past him. However, the statistics regarding his passing speak to a larger issue for Houston: their offense is based on getting the ball forward as fast they can on the counter and letting those attackers create chances with their speed. If a defense can set up in front of them, their offense will struggle.
2) Combination play - because their fullbacks hang back in support, Dallas may find it difficult to play over the top or on the counter. We will need runners in the box. Thinking back to our preseason matches, Jara combined with Obrien to get free in the box to score the first goal. Similarly, Ricaurte had a beautiful pass through the defense that Hollingshead was able to slip past Tim Parker and Maric. Last week, LAFC got their goal from making an extra pass (and an extra run [I thought Baird was on-side]) in the six-yard box. That’s what we need. And this game seems like a good opportunity for us to be patient and work the ball into our runners.
3) Transition play – because Houston likes to press high... and because they defensively stay back... Houston’s matches have been wide-open, end-to-end affairs and they stretch the field in ways that would have offended my coaches who tried to get us to be compact. We want to make them play our game – not their game.
Expected Starting Eleven:
Picault – Urruti – Pasher
Rodriguez – Vera
Lundkvist – Garcia – Parker – Valentin
Player to Watch:
Did I mention Tyler Pasher? He’s not a threat to displace Gio Reyna on the national team (he’s Canadian anyway), but on a team that struggles for offense, Pasher may be their most creative player... the one most likely to combine with others.
Tell me what you think.