After grinding out another home victory last week, the Houston Dynamo travel to Ontario where they’re facing a slightly MLS Cup fatigued Toronto FC Friday night.
Since making their run to the championship last season, Toronto has yet to find that form and has only managed to play at par, with a 2-1-4 record. A big part of this has come in the form of Sebastian Giovinco’s slumping form. The Italian maestro has only managed to put 3 of his 13 shots on goal past a ‘keeper and has yet to register an assist (even by MLS’ lax assist rules). Meanwhile USMNT striker Jozy Altidore has started the season fairly well with three goals and a pair of assists to his name. Ultimately the problem seems to come down in generating quality chances. With the offense slumping, the team has resorted to pulling their shots just a tad quicker and taking those smaller percentage chances.
That’s not to say they aren’t dangerous in front of goal. Just take a look at their recent dismantling of rebounding Chicago Fire. For the first time this season, they showed the flair and talent that has been their hallmark since Giovinco signed with the club, including the club’s third goal off a free kick that is absolutely insane. Is Giovinco back after his brace? Well, one game does not a trend make, but he was very, very good and Houston’s defense will have to be on point to prevent him from having a field day.
And despite earning their first clean sheet last week, the defense hasn’t been great at keeping opposing offenses in check so far this season. Again, one game yada yada. And it doesn’t help that Agus, AJ Delagarza, Leonardo and Ricardo Clark are all carrying knocks still. While the makeshift defense was able to handle San Jose’s stagnant offense, it’s a much tougher ask against Giovinco, Altidore, and Victor Vazquez, the former Barcelona midfielder.
In the previous match, Wilmer Cabrera rolled out a narrow 4-4-2 diamond midfield that provided a lot more cover for an ailing defense. That played a large part in the clean sheet and it’s likely that in this case he will roll it out again. For a recap of how exactly that midfield worked, check it out here.
One player that will have to be extra sharp is Alex. The Brazilian midfielder has been very, very good at creating chances and in fact is one of the best in MLS this season. One of the downsides of his game, though, is he is whistled for a lot of fouls. Tonight’s game is being reffed by Mark Geiger, who still has a bit of a taint after his international appearances back in the 2015 Gold Cup. To be fair, he has knuckled down after that controversial tournament and put in better performances since then. With Alex in particular, he is the Dynamo’s leading chance creator and there isn’t anyone on the team who can easily replace him.
While Alberth Elis and Erick Torres are also whistled for quite a few fouls, there is someone who can replace either one (or even both) in the form of Mauro Manotas and Andrew Wenger (and a nearly recovered Romell Quioto). Indeed, while the pair of strikers for Houston are whistled for fouls, they also are fouled themselves quite a bit, which makes sense for the high pace, frenetic style that Houston plays. Even in the revamped 4-4-2, the pace is still kept up.
On the good side for Houston’s offense is the myriad of injuries that Toronto is also dealing with. Like the Dynamo, TFC has four defenders out with a variety of injuries as well as goalkeeper Clint Inrwin. Of particular note is the absence of Drew Moor and Ashtone Morgan. The former is out with cardiac arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) while the latter is recovering from a stress fracture. This leaves them vulnerable to a high-attack offense such as Houston’s.
If Joe Willis gets another start, it is a chance for him to cement himself as the starter much the same way that Tyler Deric did a couple seasons ago that earned him the nickname “St Deric”. Seriously, those highlights are worth watching every time.
Houston has been really, really bad on the road for years now and so far in 2017 nothing has changed. However, the Dynamo have played Toronto very well. In Canada, Houston has a 3-3-4 record and haven’t lost in Toronto since July of 2014. That was also the last time that TFC defeated the Dynamo in a league match.
With TFC still trying to get back in their groove and Houston playing very well, it’s entirely possible for Cabrera and company to get at least a point on the road, which would be par in Ontario. Torres is the league’s leading goal scorer and Giovinco is only very recently showing his form. This game will be a barn burner as both teams are missing key defensive players. If this game ends less than a 2 – 2 draw, I’ll eat my hat. There will be goals in this one and it should be a great way to spend a Friday night.
Count on it.
PS: Be sure to comment here when the game ends 0 – 0 about how this league makes no sense.