Let’s get the basics out of the way first. The Houston Dynamo traveled up to Seattle looking to damage the playoff hopes of the Sounders. At the same time, ideally – at least from the fan base’s perspective – giving reserve players a long, hard look.
For months now fans have been wanting to see the back end of the roster, especially as starters struggle to put results together and loan agreements coming to an end quickly.
After being officially eliminated from the playoffs last weekend with the home loss to Supporter’s Shield hopefuls Colorado Rapids, interim head coach Wade Barrett did just that by including Costa Rican Keyner Brown and Honduran Jose Escalante in the starting lineup. Eric Alexander also got the nod in central midfield alongside Ricardo Clark to add more bite to the midfield.
The short version of what happened is this: some fantastic goalkeeping from Joe Willis and the post kept the score at goose-eggs each. Seattle dominated, predictably, but the Dynamo defense held firm.
Not only does the draw mean the Sounders aren’t officially in the playoffs, but a red card given to Osvaldo Alonso means a key piece of their midfield is suspended for the next match which could impact their playoff seeding.
That’s three games in a row where the Dynamo have been a spoiler to an opponent.
Think positive folks.
Enough burying the lead. On to the show!
Many have wondered why the Dynamo decided to acquire Alexander when there were gaping needs on offense. This was doubly true after Giles Barnes and Erick Torres were shipped out.
What this game showed, as well as his other appearances, is he is trying to take Clark’s position in the future. Rico isn’t getting any younger, and while he has consistently been one of the team’s best players since his return from Germany, trying to find a replacement for the future is only smart business.
Can Eric replace Rico? It would be mighty difficult, and expensive, to find such a talent but Alexander showed in last night’s game he does have the engine capable of working both sides of the ball, especially with a dedicated defensive midfielder behind him.
His passing is simple and rarely did he fail to find a teammate. While not a game changer for the future by any means, any team in Major League Soccer looking for any of the three domestic titles will need a player like Alexander. He doesn’t have the same technical skills in tackling or propensity of long range goals but a box-to-box midfielder capable of retaining possession and circulating the ball is never a bad thing.
For most of the season, Houston has had a solid trio of center backs in David Horst, Agus and Raul Rodriguez. After massive injuries, Jalil Anibaba stepped in and showed he was also a fantastic defender as well. Once the form of Rodriguez fell off a cliff, fans wondered how Keyner Brown would stack up. Against an offense that features US International Jordan Morris and Uruguayan International Nicolas Lodeiro he did quite well.
The burly defender was able to muscle attackers off the ball with poise. He even did so cleanly to the tune of only being whistled for one foul. Whenever he went in for a tackle he timed them perfectly. Only on one occasion was the defense truly beaten when Erik Friberg danced between the defenders, forcing an incredible double-save from Willis in the 40th minute.
Brown’s header in the 47′ off a corner kick hit the upper 90 to deny him a goal.
The best kind of performance from a defender is one that isn’t noticed.
Finally there is Jose Escalante. The young Honduran was deployed on the left wing and had a rough night. He found it difficult to get behind the defense and cause much in the way of havoc. Too often he tried to get overly complicated when going forward and was easily dispossessed. It’s quite a jump from USL defenses to MLS, especially playoff-level, defenses and it showed.
Does this performance mean he isn’t a useful player for the Dynamo? The truth is likely not enough information. He has potential and can be useful, especially off the bench against tired legs. With only two games left all that there really is to say after a quiet match is he takes whatever chances are handed and performs better to justify his remaining with the team in 2017.
All three players should get more minutes against the Galaxy and Rapids. Are any of them starting capable players next season? Brown showed the best but the terms of his loan make it difficult to say ‘yes’, especially with a high-cap hit player in Rodriguez potentially on the roster next season.
Next up is seeing if Yair Arboleda, Christian Lucatero and/or Charly Flores get any time as well.
Let the 2017 Pre-Season continue.