This is it.
The entire 2016 season, in all it’s frustration and low, and lower, moments comes down to one game. One set of 90 minutes will determine whether this is yet another season of losing, or if the Houston Dynamo can salvage a little bit of pride.
When FC Dallas walks onto the field at BBVA Compass Stadium Saturday night, the Dynamo have a chance to win back El Capitan, the cannon. All they have to do is not collapse.
Fortunately that is one thing they’ve been very good at under interim head coach Wade Barrett. They’ve been stout defensively, while nearly invisible offensively. For once, that is a-ok.
The first match between these two was arguably the most memorable one for years now as Dallas was dismantled and obliterated 5 – 0. The return trip in Frisco ended in a 1 – 1 draw. This means that all the Dynamo have to do is not lose by 5 goals or more and they will win the series.
FC Dallas is coming off a midweek game like Houston, but unlike the Dynamo they didn’t get to stay at home. They traveled down to Nicaragua for CONCACAF Champions League (remember that?) action, a 1 – 1 draw with Real Esteli. The Dynamo of course had their own 1 – 1 draw against the Seattle Sounders (the less said the better).
To be prepared for this game, Dallas rotated their squad heavily and used mostly a reserve side against Real Esteli so they will be pretty rested up for the game.
A point in Houston’s favor is that long time Dynamo terror Fabian Castillo is no longer with the club. After a contentious transfer saga, Castillo bolted to Turkey where he joined Trabzonspor. Even without Castillo, however, they have plenty of players capable of punishing Houston if they switch off like they did in stoppage on Wednesday.
Mauro Diaz is arguably the best playmaker in Major League Soccer and Max Urruti has benefited greatly from his services up top. The midfield boasts World Cup veteran Carlos Gruezo, Victor Ulloa and Kellyn Acosta, all capable of stopping the Dynamo’s anemic attack and hitting back on the counter in a hurry.
Houston’s midfield will have to be careful not to turn the ball over so easily, and sloppily, in the middle third. David Horst and company will need to be disciplined and maintain their line, too, and not allow Urruti to hang off the shoulder of anyone who isn’t keeping the offside line in tact.
One thing Dallas has plenty of is speed, both on and off the ball and they won’t be afraid to use it against Houston’s defense.
How can Houston break down Dallas’ defense? Oscar Garcia has been playing like a man possessed of late, creating plenty of chances for his teammates they haven’t been finished. He’ll need to continue that streak and look for weaknesses in the defense as he plays whomever is up top through.
Unfortunately for Garcia, there likely won’t be too much help from the wings as they’ve been poor most of the season in chipping in with creative help and bad crosses. Instead any goals will likely come from the middle, either from him or Christian Maidana, Alex or Ricardo Clark.
Just which set of players will be on the field will be one to watch as this is the final match of three in just seven days for the Dynamo. Rotation will be key, and several players will likely be rested or given limited minutes. With World Cup Qualifiers picking up next week, the team will be off for official games and have an “away” match against Chivas Guadalajara to look forward to. So keeping fresh is key but there is little reason not to go all out, either.
The full backs will be the big issue as DaMarcus Beasley is slowly working his way back towards full fitness. Jalil Anibaba has gotten a lot of minutes lately, on either flank, and could be given the chance to rest up in favor of Sheanon Williams on the right and Abdoulie Mansally on the left.
One thing Barrett does have is a lot of choices at center back. Raul Rodriguez and David Horst are the starters but Agus is coming off a Team of the Week performance just a couple weeks ago and Keyner Brown, on loan, has yet to feature. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the starters trotted out and one of the latter pair brought in to manage minutes in the second half.
After Saturday the season is all but over. The only thing left for the Dynamo will be to keep ahead of the Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire to avoid winning the Wooden Spoon. The trophy, quite literally a giant, wooden spoon, is given to the supporters of the team that comes dead last in the whole league. As of this writing, Houston is two points ahead of the Eastern Conference pair. Based on their respective forms, it shouldn’t be too difficult to maintain the gap.
For once this wouldn’t be a bad game to have another draw, even a scoreless one. All the pieces are lined up for Houston to reclaim the cannon. If they do, several supporters have said they’ll drive up I-45 and secure it right away for use in the next home match (just like FC Dallas did when they won it years ago). All Wade Barrett and company need to do is not collapse. Which is what will happen as the team makes 1 – 1 the new 0 – 0.