After starting out their expansion season on fire Atlanta United have come crashing back to the pack, winning only one game in their last seven. Indeed, United have yet to win a match in their last three, securing only a point on the road against the Portland Timbers. Now they face the best offense in Major League Soccer Saturday night when the Houston Dynamo come to town.
Fortunately for them, the Dynamo have yet to figure out how to score goals, much less contend in matches, while on the road. Fortunately for United, the Dynamo have a -8 goal differential on the road so far, scoring a mere 2 goals to date (which occurred in one game). Does this mean that the home side is guaranteed a victory to turn their season around?
No, but things are in their favor.
With star striker Josef Martinez and MLS veteran Jacob Peterson out, United has started to lean heavier on their midfield to take over the offensive burden, which they have the talent to do. Hector Villaba and Miguel Almiron are more than capable of punishing the Dynamo defense, scoring 6 goals between them while setting up six. Without their enigmatic striker to put away those chances, however, their offense has stuttered a bit as legendary Trinidad & Tobago striker Kenwyne Jones hasn’t found his scoring form, with just a pair of goals in 381 minutes, mostly off the bench.
Like their previous two games, the Dynamo are facing a 5 man midfield. In this particular iteration, there is more of an emphasis on the attacking midfielder that Juan David Cabezas will need to be mindful of. Almiron has been lethal with his through balls and finding open teammates out wide. Yamil Asad, the young Argentine loanee, has been effective as well, providing Almiron the kind of leeway needed to break past defenders. That also means Ricardo Clark will likely need to play more defensively minded and shuttle the ball smartly.
Unlike the previous 5 man midfield, United looks to dominate possession and move the ball around slowly, luring their opponents into a lull. Then they move the ball forward extremely fast as soon as the defense is flat footed or a gap appears. That plays right into the hands of Wilmer Cabera’s Dynamo, though. Houston is at their best when they hold onto the ball sparingly and transition from defense to offense in mere seconds. So the game will come down to who can impose themselves on their opponent.
As much as the Dynamo need to be careful defensively, the real problem for them has been offense. They can’t score goals, having been shut out in three of their four road games to date. What Houston can’t do is get into the same situation that spelt their doom in Philadelphia, which is their opponent conceding possession and daring the Dynamo to break them down. Considering how Atlanta plays, that likely won’t happen unless they take a lead early and big enough to warrant such a move.
That has also been a big problem for Houston: giving up the goal early and having to fight back the rest of the way. As soon as the referee blows his whistle, the team needs to be mentally prepared. Though they are on short rest, after the afore mentioned loss to Doop Town on Wednesday, Houston will need to be sharp. That means there will be some rotation required. One possibility is Oscar Garcia getting some minutes, as well as rookie Joe Holland or Jose Rodriguez. Another play that the team will be mindful of is DaMarcus Beasley. Ever since returning from his early-season injury, he’s been in good form. Playing 120 minutes in a matter of days will be difficult for the aged left back. Especially against an explosive offense like United’s.
So what can fans expect Saturday? If there is an opponent that is teed up to be taken advantage of for Houston to break their miserable road streak, it is Atlanta United. Their poor run of form recently, their style of play, and injuries to key players leaves them vulnerable to a high attacking, counter-attacking team like the Dynamo. Whatever happens will results in lots of goals. Because we here at KeeperNotes are forever optimistic about the Dynamo, let’s go with a crazy 3 – 2 win for Houston, maintaining their top spot in the Western Conference.