Another game: another scoreless draw.
At least this one had a few surprises that made the match worth talking about.
In a surprise move that got fans excited, those precious few that made the trip to BBVA Compass Stadium anyway was that Wade Barrett changed his lineup for the first time in league play and used a flat 4-4-2 with Erick Torres paired alongside Will Bruin. The Mexican Youth International is set to leave for the Olympics, and this was his first (and last) chance to impress the coaching staff before leaving to Rio.
That wasn’t the only surprise as Ricardo Clark was benched in favor of Alex and Collen Warner in central midfield. They’ve both impressed under the (temporary?) new regime but always with Clark as a crutch should they make any mistakes. However after logging hard minutes in an Open Cup match against Dallas, Barrett decided to give the veteran a chance to rest. The normally reserved Clark probably wasn’t too happy as his fitness has never been a concern barring injury. While many fans questioned the move, it was an intelligent one from Barrett.
There is no denying that Clark has been this team’s best player for at least the past 18 months, if not longer. However he isn’t getting any younger and at some point the Houston Dynamo will have to move past Clark, and this was a showcase for how that could work. Granted the Vancouver Whitecaps aren’t the toughest offensive team in the league (much like us they can’t score any goals) but they’re a quality outfit. Early in the game Alex sliced and diced through the ‘Caps defense and created several opportunities that couldn’t be capitalized while Warner did a good job of slowing down the counter attack.
Indeed the first ten minutes or so were the best ones this team has shown fans in quite some time. The forward pairing created chances for each other with good runs and smart passes. But neither could quite get the shot off. For Torres, a lot of that could go down to bench rot (he hasn’t has a serious run of play since 2014). While Bruin, well, was Bruin (for good and bad).
Could this pairing work once the Olympics are over for Mexico? It’s one that should be explored further.
Once the Whitecaps took over the game about 15 minutes in, the rest of the half was good for catching Pokemon and not much else. It is worth mentioning that after only 13 minutes of play, Raul Rodriguez had to be subbed off due to an injury. The only reliable center back option on the bench was Clark (Agus didn’t dress) but instead Barrett brought in Abdoulie Mansally, pushing Jalil Anibaba into the middle. It was very nervy the first fifteen minutes. After that, he did an adequate job minus a play very late in the game.
As the Dynamo are wont to do, they turned up the pressure in the second half but everything conspired to prevent them from scoring. Mansally’s crosses were off (too far, wrong target, etc), shots went everywhere but on frame and Costa Rican International Kendall Waston was a brick wall. Oscar Garcia had a fantastic chance late into the half inside the 18. Garcia curled his shot around a defender, leaving Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted flatfooted as he was screened. The ball curled wonderfully and hit the inside of the post. Instead of going in it bounced harmlessly across the line and out of the box.
In one of the final plays of the night, as the ball was served into the box, Dynamo players screamed for a hand ball but the referee waved them away. Replay showed otherwise. Maybe the league will give the Dynamo some form of justice as they did when the Whitecaps were gifted a penalty off a Masato Kudo dive.
Houston did make up some ground on the playoff race (insert snicker here) as with Portland’s loss to the Galaxy, the Dynamo are only 10 points back from the final spot. More importantly, they are two points ahead of the Chicago Fire for the (un)coveted Wooden Spoon.
Can this system work against more robust offensives? With a full, healthy team perhaps. The problem is that the Dynamo are loaded down with midfielders, especially central ones and lack the wide players needed to truly make that system work. It also leaves a lot of the salary cap on the bench or in the stands. If Alex could be as offensive for most of the 90 minutes as he was the first ten, Barrett could be on to something. After the initial burst, however, he had a harder time getting into the game.
The most surprising player in the game wasn’t Torres, who was decidedly mixed in performance, but Bruin. The oft-discussed striker did well to make some fantastic runs and set his his partner, even though none of it paid off. His shots were the usual affair: some good, some really not. One can’t help but wonder if given more time with Torres to develop some chemistry together and with their wide players if the goals would start flowing.
The Dynamo remain at home as they host the San Jose Earthquakes next Sunday before entering a murderers’ row of games in August. The Whitecaps have a rough go of things as they travel up I-45 to square off against FC Dallas on Sunday before traveling to Trinidad & Tobago for CCL action against Central FC the following Tuesday. On August 6, they fly to Denver to try to knock off one of the league’s best in the Colorado Rapids. Some serious miles will be added to their rewards cards over the next couple weeks.