Know Your Enemy: Houston Dynamo #2

Home is where the fanatics are.

OTF’s Stephen Mangat brings you the classics and the contemporary in a look at the Houston Dynamo…

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias touches on the temporal nature of power and greatness, and until May 12, the Houston Dynamo had gone 36 games unbeaten at home. Following a loss to Sporting KC that day, the two-time defending Eastern Conference champs have only picked up 11 points from eight games and gone 1-1-1 in MLS home games.

So as you watch Saturday’s match, Fire fans, no need to despair at the sight of Dom Kinnear’s frown and sneer because the mighty have been laid low and are ripe for some sand to be kicked in their face.

Time to get tough, ye Mighty, so let’s take a look at Chicago’s next opponent, the Houston Dynamo…

PLAY OUR MUSIC!!!

Tactics

Dom Kinnear puts together a playoff-making squad each season. While he finds quality players, his teams never seem to be as talent-laden as their rivals. As such, much of the team’s success is testament to his fine man-management. In fact, there’s a great bit in an ESPN.com article from 2011 about Kinnear that’s worth sharing:

Players who don’t want to be in Houston are never kept there against their will. Happiness is a central tenet to the philosophy that has made Kinnear so successful.

“Frank [Yallop, former Dynamo head coach] used to say if a player comes through that door that’s somebody’s son,” Kinnear said. “That stuck with me. You want that player to be treated the way you’d want your son to be treated. You want to give that player your honest opinion of what’s going on and not to be false or to lie, even if it’s not always a good message.”

It’s no wonder that Houston always plays hard and few players fail there. Kinnear seems to truly care about creating an atmosphere for each individual in which they can succeed. For all our talk about tactics, it’s this type of organizational culture that makes a club great.

As for tactics, it’ll be flat four in the back with a diamond midfield and two up top for the Men in Orange.

Thought it's not all peace and love with Dom.

Though it’s not all peace and love.

Goalie

Tally Hall is one of the best in the league and is probably his generation’s Kevin Hartman: great MLS goalie who isn’t quite good enough to get into the USMNT.

Defense

As usual the Houston defense is good (3rd best in the league 20 goals against), yet no single name truly stands out. Corey Ashe will be on the left as he’s back from not playing with the USMNT at the Gold Cup. Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor will be in the middle. Kofi Sarkodie should be on the right.

They’re all very good athletes and solid players. The speed of Ashe and Sarkodie provide the team’s width due to the diamond midfield. This group is well-drilled and keep their shape very well.

Midfield

While the defense has been stout this season, the real strength of this team is in the midfield. Oscar Boniek Garcia and Brad Davis provide the creativity, while Adam Moffat and Ricardo Clark provide the steel.

Davis and Garcia are on the left and right, but they stay tucked in. With Davis seeing time with the USMNT, Scot Andrew Driver’s been playing in Davis’s spot on the left, but he won’t be a significant downgrade from the excellent Davis. Plus, Davis has battled a hammy of late, so no cheers if Davis doesn’t start. However, don’t be surprised if Brad comes on as a super sub in the second half.

Clark is positioned the highest, but he’s a forward-leaning destroyer — an interesting wrinkle. As a reference, it’s a role that Pepe has frequented in recent seasons for Real Madrid when they played top European sides. Moffat will be in front of the back four, is a threat to shoot, and can’t be ignored.

Ricardo Clark in action.

Attack

Will Bruin is their top man, but he’ll be sitting on the bench with the USMNT at the Gold Cup, so no need to worry about him. Up top will be Giles Barnes and either Cam Weaver or Omar Cummings. Barnes is a big, athletic guy, Weaver is a big guy, and Cummings is a fast guy who, like a former meth dealer, doesn’t have the speed he once had. Calen Carr is still rehabbing an ACL tear from the 2012 MLS Cup Final.

This underwhelming group shows in Houston’s third-worst-in-the-East 22 goals for.

Probably the best thing Giles Barnes has ever done.

How can Chicago win?

Expose themselves

Houston’s width comes from the outside backs, so if Frank Klopas gets his outside midfielders and backs forward, Chicago can take the initiative and the game to Houston. While providing support to the forwards and central midfielders, this approach would leave the center backs a bit exposed.

Normally, yours truly is about leaving the middle a bit exposed (particularly when it comes to preferences in personal and female sartorial choices), but it’s probably not a style befitting the Fire. Though it looks like in order to prove the size of his keftedes, Frank Klopas will need to expose himself a bit. But isn’t that always the case?

That’s what I’m talking about!

Absolutely no fooling around from Berry or Soumare

Ricardo Clark’s pressing is designed to put opponents on their heels and he’ll keep pushing forward until opponents demonstrate they can consistently pass around him. That’s easier said than done, as Clark is dogged and simply fantastic at what he does. Therefore, the Fire’s centerbacks cannot afford to dawdle and they’d be smart to play quickly and safely. If they don’t, expect a mistake caused by Clark’s pressure to lead to a golden chance(s) for Houston.

Said, Fire, take it slow and things will be just fine…

…Chicago Fire needs a little patience. Houston will be well-organized and they won’t make silly mistakes. Plus, it’s Houston in the summer, so it’ll be somewhere near 137 degrees at kickoff despite the 8pm start time. In fact, Klopas would be smart to vary his tactics throughout the game. Go with the aforementioned outside press for the first 25, then sit back and look to counter for the rest of the first half. Second half could be a bit of the same, with flexibility depending on scoreline.

Best of luck, Fire fans. It’s the Delaware Shakespeare Festival and the Newark (DE) Food and Brew Fest this weekend, so it’ll be two days of culture and booze for yours truly.

To be drunk or not to be drunk, there is no question!

Cary Grant and booze: Now that’s sophistication!

OTF’s Stephen Mangat is a Prince Hal surrounded by Falstaffs. Follow him @smangat12

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