In what is still something of a shock for fans, the Houston Dynamo are one of the best teams at home in Major League Soccer. They’ll get another chance to continue that strong home form when they host the Vancouver Whitecaps Friday night. It’s a game that the Dynamo have to win as a slew of road games dominate their schedule for the next four months. It’s also against a team ripe for the taking.
The ‘Caps are wrapping up a nearly month-long road trip in which they’ve been highly successful. In their previous three games during this swing, the Whitecaps are 2-1-0, including winning their previous two games. A big piece of why they’ve been so successful has been the loan-signing of former Seattle Sounders striker Fredy Montero. After a tour in Europe and China, Montero returned to MLS to help out the ‘Caps and their seeming inability to score goals last season. Just two and a half months into the season, Montero has been very successful, banging in four goals and one assist so far.
Unlike the Dynamo’s offense, the ‘Caps are entirely reliant on Montero to drive their offense or score all of their goals. Their midfield chips in with goals as Christian Techera and Matias Laba are capable of coming in behind Montero to find the gaps that he creates and score goals from there. Texas native Brek Shea has also been pretty good for the ‘Caps, though he is carrying a knee sprain and might not be available for the full match.
Carl Robinson, head coach of the Whitecaps, during the offseason was under a lot of pressure from fans and media after a very disappointing 2016 season, and unable to build upon the fantastic 2015 campaign. Their biggest downfall was a lack of a prolific goal-scorer – enter Montero.
So to neutralize the Whitecaps seems simple: take Montero out of the game. As anyone who has been around the league knows, however, that is easier said than done. In his four seasons (and change) in the league, he’s racked up 51 goals and 35 assists. He can score in a variety of ways and is excellent at finding holes in opposing defenses that he uses to takes shots or distract defenders from the runners behind him.
This is where the midfield trio of Alex, Ricardo Clark, and Juan Cabezas come in. The trio will need to be mindful of the visitor’s midfield as they will be outnumbered. The group will have to be mindful of who is where and when and know when to hand-off a runner to the defense and when to keep marking them. Not getting pulled too far out of shape will be key, otherwise it will be more difficult for the Dynamo to get a counter-attack going.
Fortunately, the defense is returning to full health and form, coming off of their second shut-out of the season. AJ Delegarza has been a great pickup to man the right back position and DaMarcus Beasley, when healthy, has been a solid defender to protect the wings.
The injury to Eric Alexander is a blow to the defense, however, but not in a typical way. Eric isn’t a hard tackling midfielder like Cabezas. Like the Colombian, he won’t shove players off the ball or run them down either. Nor will Alexander attempt to put a pass to one of the strikers like Alex or Ricardo Clark will. Eric is an excellent passer of the ball, almost always finding his man which results in almost no turnovers in midfield. For a counter attacking team, this is huge. For one, it allows the defense a chance to reset their shape and catch their breath, knowing that the ball won’t be turned over in a bad position. It also allows the strikers time to get upfield and find an opening to exploit.
Without Alexander, Ricardo Clark and Oscar Garcia will be tapped to fill that role. Neither are exactly the same type of midfielder, but both more than capable.
Another injury that will be minded is the concussion to Erick Torres. The Mexican striker missed out last week though his slot was filled admirably by Mauro Manotas. Once Torres is fully cleared, Wilmer Cabrera will have a tough decision to make: Torres or Manotas. The answer will likely depend on the long-term planning around them. Is there interest in moving either one, either here or elsewhere? If so, it’d behoove the team to give that player enough time to pad their stats to increase their value.
Back to this game, though. The Whitecaps are carrying a bunch of injuries and their depth is constantly being tested. Their defense also isn’t the fleetest of foot, leaving them vulnerable to the Dynamo’s brand of counter-attack. If Shea is healthy, it’d go a way towards mitigating the danger that Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto provide.
As of this writing, the Dynamo sit in 4th place, three points ahead of the Vancouver Whitecaps. Besides the revamped offense, the biggest reason for this comes from the home-heavy schedule. Houston has played 6 games at home and only three on the road. That is going to change over the summer with Houston not enjoying back-to-back games at BBVA until August 26 and September 9. After the Vancouver match and then, there will only be 5 home games but 11 on the road. It’s well known that Houston is terrible on the road over the past several years and there’s been little sign that things will change this year (so far). If Cabrera and company want to have a chance to make the playoffs, they have to replicate their home form.
They also have to maximize their home games and three points against the Vancouver Whitecaps will give them more cushioning to make some mistakes on the road. This is the kind of team that Houston should be able to defeat at home. The offense is really clicking, regardless of whether Torres or Manotas leads the line. Though the ‘Caps are performing well on the road, they did so against teams that are struggling (in their own unique ways). Expect Houston to continue their dominance in a 3 – 1 victory.