After a long, refreshing off-season where everyone was able to rewind and put the past behind us, it’s time to get ready for another season and the chance for the Houston Dynamo to win some trophies.
Wilmer Cabrera and Matt Jordan made several changes to the roster, revamping the roster by getting much younger and faster. And by faster it isn’t just the raw speed of the players but also speed of the ball itself. One of the big problems last season was the Dynamo’s inability to push the ball forward to catch their opponents off guard. While this sometimes resulted in lots of possession, it allowed teams more than time enough to set themselves defensively. Without enough creative talent in the attack, the Dynamo were unable to find weaknesses in the defense and get any real shots off, and even fewer goals.
Has that been fixed?
Well, so far this pre-season has looked pretty good, even against other Major League Soccer competition. A big part of that is due to acquisitions of Hondurans Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis. They’re very versatile, capable of playing up top as a striker as well out wide. And it is that latter talent that will prove to be most advantageous. With one or both on the wings, and either Mauro Manotas or Erick Torres up top, the Dynamo will feature one of the more potent attacking threats in the league.
To provide even more chance for Cabrera to mix things up, Manotas is fully capable of playing on the left as well, during injuries or international call-ups or what have you.
Here is prediction number one that you can take to the bank: The Dynamo will only be as successful offensively as Erick “Cubo” Torres.
Now let’s define what that means. Either Torres gets on the field and scores goals, or the Dynamo move him on and get someone who will. If he sits on the bench all season, or fails to capitalize on the chances he is given, our offense will struggle and the Dynamo won’t make the playoffs. Both Elis and Quioto will be busy with the Honduran National team and will miss games as a result. Also, throughout the season, they will get injured and/or suspended. Besides Torres, there is only Vicente Sanchez, a 37 year old Uruguayan who can fill in nicely from time to time but it’d be asking a lot to rely on him for more than that.
“But, Kyle, what about the midfield? How can the forwards score if they don’t get the ball? Did you not pay attention last season?!?”
Hold your horses, I was about to get to that.
You’re right, the Dynamo midfield did a very poor job of getting the ball forward to the striker, who then faced a defensive four (and sometimes more) with little to no support. But think about that again: under both Owen Coyle and Wade Barrett the Dynamo used only a single striker. That system can work but only with runners coming out of midfield and the ball being played fast to keep defenders on their toes. Heck even a slow buildup can work with dynamic wing players to stretch the defense wide.
What was once four defenders bunched around a single striker becomes a pair or less.
So the question becomes, can Ricardo Clark, Alex Lima and Juan Cabezas get the ball moving fast enough?
Well…maybe? Clark and Alex are both fully capable of delivering a killer pass and even getting a shot off from distance to keep the defense honest. But neither are playmakers in the usual sense and sometimes struggle to get a good pass off. Fortunately there is some depth in midfield with Oscar Garcia, Christian Lucatero and Jose “Memo” Rodriguez providing good backup. Jose Escalante and Andrew Wenger, along with Garcia, can provide wide options in the more traditional winger role to switch things up tactically.
However with three options up top, it’ll be much easier to spread the ball around. Whether attempting to hold the ball or hit opponents on the counter, more options up top means, in theory, the midfield will be much more successful going forward.
Prediction Number Two: The midfield will struggle to find the balance between getting the ball moving and providing the defensive stability needed to cover marauding wingbacks.
Now why do I think this? The absolute most important part of the 4-3-3 is the wingbacks. Without them to cover their respective flanks so the wide forwards can focus on attack, the midfield is stretched too thin and over-run. Essentially the whole system collapses leading to disaster. DaMarcus Beasley is a fine player even at his age and can cover the left flank just fine. AJ Delagarza is a fantastic pickup, one the LA Galaxy are ruing at the moment with all of their injuries. He’ll also do a good job to protect the right flank.
The breakdown will come as they press forward. Unless Cabezas has a Best XI season, the cover behind them will be exposed, especially by the top teams in the league. Also as the pair are worn down with injuries, especially in Run’s case, reliable back-ups capable of replicating that performance will be tricky. Dylan Remick is a fine player but being able to fill Run DMB’s shoes is a tall ask for any player.
So this brings us to the final prediction of all: where will the Dynamo finish in the season? Will they repeat last year’s dismal performance? Or will they be even worse (which some think is impossible, to which I say “Remember DC United 2013”)? Can we hope to dream that we can be a playoff team? A title contender, perhaps?
Don’t put your hope on any sort of title chance. This team is still lacking in several areas and needs another solid transfer window, maybe two, before they’re ready to win hardware. Jordan and Cabrera have done a fine job in bringing in good talent and this winter will be a successful one if half of those players perform for us. Depending on which ones perform will determine where exactly the Dynamo land.
So, count on it: the Dynamo will finish in 8th place in the Western Conference, 16th overall in the Supporter’s Shield standings.