Know Your Enemy: Houston Dynamo

Flyin’ Brad (photo: houstondynamo.com)

Damn, it’s been too long.

HIT THE MUSIC!!!

The Houston Dynamo (42 pts., 26 games played, 3rd in East) visit the Fire at Toyota Park on Sunday evening and it’s a big one for both teams. Chicago is a point behind with a game in hand. A win puts Chicago in third or fourth and will help shore up their playoff spot. A loss for the Fire could mean trouble, especially with the in-form Columbus Crew only two points behind in sixth and barely on the outside looking in for the final five in the East. (Montreal is two points behind as well, but they’ve played 3 more games than the Fire.)

The Houston Dynamo are always a crack squad. Year after year, they make the playoffs and do well. That’s not good analysis at all, but it’s true (check out Dominic Kinnear’s resume if you don’t believe me). Houston is solid and unless Chicago plays well, they will lose.

how insightful…

Houston has a loss (2-0 at New York) and two draws in their last three MLS matches. But, in their last 12, the Dynamo picked up 25 points – a damn good haul. How did they do it? To the bullet points!

  • Houston is strong, tall, and physical as hell. This isn’t a knock to say they’re brutes, they are just big dudes who can play and know that their size is an advantage. Out of their regular cast, only three players are short. Corey Ashe is 5’7″, Luiz Carmago is 5’8″, and Boniek Garcia is 5’8″. Even a tough-MFer like Ricardo Clark is a small guy for this team. Corners and set pieces will be more important than usual on Sunday, so the Chicago midfield and defenders will need to be focused and on-their-toes to pick up the second balls after Houston wins the initial ones in the air. Bottom line: the Dynamo are built to hurt you on set pieces.
  • Brad Davis = Danger. He’s second on the team in goals and by far tops in assists. Davis is simply one of the league’s best players. He operates in the area from the center-right of the field to the extreme left and is rarely found on the right touchline.
  • Will Bruin is the new Brian Ching. Big guy, good touch, holds the ball well, surprising quickness, good positional sense and quality finisher. Sound familiar? Will Bruin has 11 goals this season and is playing the role that Ching played so well in his pomp. Ching is still around but Bruin is the top dog.
  • Their defense is solid, but not impenetrable. In their last 12 games, Houston allowed only 8 goals. Yet they gave up 6 in their last 4. So what’s the deal? Lately, the Dynamo are vulnerable to quick movement and thinking. Both goals conceded vs. Columbus and the one Toronto scored were due to well-timed runs and well-executed passes. Not exactly a great revelation, just further evidence that goals against Houston don’t come cheap. Nevertheless, the defense sorely misses Geoff Cameron, who made a splash this week in his EPL debut with Stoke City.
  • Beware of Oscar Boniek Garcia. First, the Honduran international is named after a Polish legend. Points for that. Second, he’s made a difference in a short amount of time with one goal, five assists and 19 shots in 11 games. I’ve never seen this guy play, but from what I’ve read and heard, he’s a playa.

Other things to consider:

Houston changed their formation mid-season. In fact, it was against the Philly Union when they started with a 4-3-3 lineup – their m.o. that has since proven quite effective. Basically, it’s Will Bruin in the middle up top with speedsters Calen Carr and Mac Kandji on either side of him. All three forwards are 6′ or taller. In the midfield, it’s either ball-winners Adam Moffat or Ricardo Clark in the middle with Davis given much freedom on the left and new man Oscar Boniek Garcia holding down the right. Davis’ roaming role frees left back Corey Ashe to get up and down the left side. The rest of the defense stays put unless it’s a set piece and then the giants lumber forward.

Houston’s fatigue could play a factor since they’re competing on two fronts. The Dynamo played a tough group-stage match of the CONCACAF Champions League on Thursday night in 100% humidity against 25-time Honduran champions Club Deportivo Olimpio in Tegucigalpa. Houston worked hard to earn the 1-1 draw after playing with 10 men during the last 30 minutes. The match started with much of Houston’s regular eleven on the bench, but Kinnear was forced to sub on three starters (Boswell, Kandji, Bruin) in the second half to provide relief. Hopefully for Chicago, Houston will have heavy legs and feel fatigued after a quick turnaround to Toyota Park. After all, they played a late-night match on Thursday and it’s not easy to get into and out of Honduras, go home to Houston, and then fly to Chicago within the span of a few days.

Bobby Boswell on Sunday? Actually, George Michael kinda looks like a young Boswell.

So what does all this nonsense mean? Well, I return to my earlier point. Despite the possibility that the Dynamo may be gassed, Chicago needs to play well for the entire game to win this one. Houston doesn’t have an obvious weakness and they pose significant problems for any MLS squad.

Knowing that Chicago needs a win, I’m willing to bet that Houston sits back and looks to hit the Fire on the counter attack. Ricardo Clark will harass Pavel Pardo or whoever tries to make it happen in the Houston half. When turnovers happen, Kandji and Carr will make the runs as Bruin holds up the ball then feeds Davis who makes the killer pass. Substitute Brad Davis for Oscar Boniek Garcia, Clark for Adam Moffat, and Bruin for Brian Ching and the previous scenario is still fair game. The Dynamo have the personnel to hurt Chicago in multiple ways. They are not a one-trick pony. The Fire must win balls and keep the midfield clean to prevent Houston from pressuring their way into the final third and winning set pieces.

Well, I’m Stephen Mangat and that’s it from Philly. As always, good luck to the Men in Red and may the best team win!

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