The Houston Dynamo return after a week off during the International Break with a host of new injuries to contend with, none more worrisome than the injury to Romell Quioto. The Honduran International dislocated his shoulder in a loss to the USA on Friday night. In his absence, thought to be upwards of a month, Colombian Mauro Manotas will fill his shoes in the hopes of picking up where he left off last season.
Manotas scored 6 goals last season, losing out on the Golden Boot to Andrew Wenger on assists. All of those goals came late in the season when the Dynamo’s fate was cemented, turning the final few months into an almost enjoyable experience. In the current season, his playing time has been almost nil with Quioto and Alberth Elis playing extremely well so far.
While no injury is ever welcome, at least this particular one isn’t as severe as was initially thought and comes early enough in the season so head coach Wilmer Cabrera can have an extended look at the young Colombian. If any adjustments are needed, he’ll have plenty of time to do so before the next round of qualifying begins, not to mention this summer’s Gold Cup. Manotas can slot right into the left forward position, but won’t be exactly the same type of player. Quioto plays more of an advanced winger, both serving up crosses as well as getting on the end of them. Mauro would take his defenders on and look to cut inside and overload the defense before passing the ball on the ground or ripping a shot from the top of the box.
Another injury concern for Houston is with Juan David Cabezas, who picked up a concussion in training. Without him to be the more defensive-minded central midfielder, Eric Alexander will slot in just fine. Alexander lacks the physicality and imposition that Cabezas brings, but his passing allows the team to retain some possession so the defense can catch their breath.
For the visitors, they’re without defender Giddeon Baah due to a broken leg and Gonzalo Veron with (another) hamstring injury. Mike Grella, who has been stellar these past two seasons, is out with a knee injury as well. On top of this, Sacha Kljestan, Derrick Ettiene Jr and Michael Murillo are all returning from international duty. Combine all of that with an offense that has yet to click this season, they’ve been shut out twice and scored multiple goals only once (a win at Atlanta) and they are ripe for the picking.
Bradley Wright-Phillips recently signed a new, multi-year deal as a Designated Player for the Red Bulls, which is well earned, having scored 70 goals in league play during his three full seasons with the team. So far in 2017, he only has a single goal. Jesse Marsch and company clearly feel that it is only a matter of time before he breaks out of his early season funk and a Houston Dynamo that has shown itself to be vulnerable could be just what he needs.
Much like Columbus and Seattle before them, the Red Bulls will look to dominate the ball and pull defenders out of their position to exploit the empty space. In order to prevent that, the defense and midfielders, especially the latter, will have to be mindful about marking specific players so as not to get dragged around the field. Alex, Ricardo Clark, and Alexander will need to fill in the gaps while also keeping an eye on Kljestan and BWP. The pair are very good from distance and can exploit gaps between players to rifle a shot on goal.
As the Dynamo attempt to counter-attack, they absolutely have to keep their wits about them as Aurelien Collin will have zero problem being very physical with the strikers. In his time in MLS, Collin has made a career of being a terror against the Dynamo in getting players sent off and scoring clutch goals to secure three points. If he plays Saturday night, look for more of the same.
If DaMarcus Beasley isn’t fully recovered from his international duty, it will fall on Dylan Remick to fill in. Against the Crew, he did an admirable job of being defensively sound while relying on others to pick up the slack offensively. On paper, the Red Bulls provide a much more potent offensive threat, making the task much harder for the former Sounder. If he replicates his performance, the defense should do fine, especially with Manotas in front of him. The Colombian has shown an inclination to get back defensively more than his Honduran counterpart.
Oh, and if a penalty kick comes up, let us hope that Sacha is the one to take it.
On paper this seems like another nervy win for the home side. It is unlikely that Houston will be able to put three past the Red Bulls, as Luis Robles is in excellent form (despite a blip in Seattle). A 1 – 1 draw seems to be the most likely result, but either team pulling out a late goal for the slight edge is nearly as likely. Let’s go with the former as Houston continues to adapt to life without Quioto and BWP keeps on looking for his breakout performance.