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Orlando City has the Perfect Pieces to Exploit Weak Houston Dynamo Defense

Houston has leaked goals so far this year. Can the Lions take advantage?

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Orlando City SC Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

The focus for the Houston Dynamo this season has been squarely on their offense. It’s for good reason; Erick “Cubo” Torres is slowly returning to the form he once had with Chivas USA, new additions Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis both have multiple goals already, and Brazilian midfielder Alex has been pulling all of the right strings from midfield. The Dynamo have scored at least two goals in every home game this season, currently coasting to a 4-0-1 unbeaten record in BBVA Compass Stadium.

But on the other end of the pitch, it’s an entirely different story and it has been holding the team back. Houston is allowing 1.6 goals per game in 2017 (for reference, Orlando City’s porous defense last season allowed 1.7), and the Dynamo defense has some gaping holes that often turn their matches into shootouts. They have managed only a single clean sheet this year and have allowed 13 goals over their other seven matches.

Tomorrow night has all of the makings of a back-and-forth affair, especially with an Orlando City offense that was inches away from punishing a more stout defense in Toronto on Wednesday and is boosted by the return of Kaká. To make the prospects even brighter for the visiting Lions, Orlando City has all of the pieces to take advantage of Houston’s most glaring weaknesses and come away with a result.

City fullbacks Scott Sutter and Donny Toia should be relishing the chance to take on the Dynamo defense. Almost half of the 13 goals the home side have allowed started on the flanks, with crosses whipped in to often unmarked attackers. Seattle, Columbus, Minnesota United, Toronto FC, and Portland have all managed to punish the Dynamo from the flanks.

No matter the combination of Adolfo Machado, Leonardo, and Jalil Anibaba manning the middle, the Dynamo haven’t proven that they can handle threatening passes into the area. Both Leonardo and Anibaba have lost the majority of their aerial duels according to Machado has made up for that deficit by winning 13 of 17, but it hasn’t been enough to keep the opposition off the score sheet.

Sutter and Toia have already proven themselves to be accomplished crossers of the ball, combining for three assists in the last four matches. Orlando has shown a willingness to let the offense flow through the wider areas of the field. Having a target like Cyle Larin lurking in the area — who has a good two inches in height on Machado — tilts the scales even more in Orlando’s favor. With Houston’s wide players like A.J. DeLaGarza, Boniek Garcia and DaMarcus Beasley bombing up the field to join the attack, there should be plenty of space in transition for Lions attackers to run into.

And that space should be perfect for what could be Orlando’s biggest weapon this weekend: Carlos Rivas. Rivas is arguably a better crosser than either of Orlando’s fullbacks and has the pace to wreak havoc on Houston’s normally high defensive line. Other than crosses, Houston has had the most trouble containing runs made by opposition forwards that aren’t nearly as fast as the Colombian. Kei Kamara and Bradley Wright-Phillips are the latest to have eased past Houston’s central defenders to find the back of the net. Christian Ramirez nearly did if not for some questionable tactics from Machado to halt his run:

Speed isn’t necessary to get in behind against Houston. The Lions made their living off the long ball to Rivas early in the season and they are poised to do so again tomorrow night. The only question is if Rivas has the stamina left in his legs after going the full 90 minutes on Wednesday. If he doesn’t, Orlando still has plenty of pace on the forward line with Giles Barnes who should be able to make the right runs into space. With Kaká running the offense again, it will be difficult to keep Orlando off the scoreboard even with tired legs.

It’s the end of a long week for Orlando City, but the pieces are there to have the club’s best offensive performance to date. And the Lions may need it to keep up with the Dynamo.