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Intelligence Report: Orlando City at Houston Dynamo

The Lions finish a two-game swing looking to bring home points after a tough loss at Toronto.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Orlando City SC Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City (6-2-0, 18 points) finishes off its two-game road swing at the Houston Dynamo (4-3-1, 13 points) tomorrow night at BBVA Compass Stadium. The Orange have yet to lose at their home ground, going 4-0-1 in home games. The Lions couldn’t knock Toronto off at home on Wednesday so they’ll have to work some magic in Houston to bring home some points from this trip.

The Lions are just 1-2-0 on the road this season, but played pretty well overall at BMO FIeld on Wednesday — aside from finishing in the penalty area. They’ll need to be sharper and more clinical to get a result in Texas against a team they’ve never scored against. Tyler Deric’s own-goal in 2015 is the only ball to find the net through two matches in the series. After that 1-0 final in the first meeting, the teams drew 0-0 at Camping World Stadium in 2016 under interim coach Bobby Murphy.

Here to help us learn about the 2017 Dynamo is our good friend Derek Stowers, a co-editor over at SB Nation’s Houston blog, Dynamo Theory. I also answered Derek's questions, and you can read my answers to their questions over at their place.

The Dynamo are off to a much better start in 2017. What changes has the club made this season in both personnel and tactics that have led to the turnaround?

Derek Stowers: Before I dive into this answer, I should open by saying we’ve been terrific at home and absolutely abysmal on the road so while we’re off to a good start, much of that is due to a strong home schedule and we still have work to do in order to reach the upper echelon of the Western Conference.

What has really been the difference has been how the club handled itself following the departure of Owen Coyle. The front office did not truly rebuild the way it could have when Coyle was announced as head coach, so we saw sweeping changes this off-season in order to get away from our years of missing the playoffs. That began with the hiring of Wilmer Cabrera as head coach, who built the team in a way that could play his style. We saw mainstay players like Will Bruin traded and many others had their options not picked up so that Cabrera could bring in quick attackers such as Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto to complement Cubo Torres.

Cabrera has largely utilized a 4-3-3 this season that meant relinquishing some possession and defensive responsibilities by forwards in favor of quick counter attacking soccer. We could defend an attack against us and within less than 10 seconds have a shot on goal at the other end of the field and that is not an exaggeration — that’s how this team plays. But, that hasn’t worked out in every game, notably against Portland, New England, and Minnesota. Teams that are quick or possess well tend to do better against this style which is why Cabrera has shown some growth as he’s expanded to a 4-4-2. That itself has its limitations (more on that in the next question), but the way that Cabrera has helped build this team and his attacking oriented style has helped get us to where we are. He still needs to figure out how to manage games better, but few teams can attack as well and quickly as this Dynamo team.

Like Orlando City, Houston has deployed the 4-4-2 diamond in 2017. How has this affected the team's play and what do you expect to see if both teams use it against each other on Saturday?

DS: As I mentioned in the above question, we saw the effectiveness of the 4-3-3 fail against some clubs and our home draw against Minnesota United FC particularly felt bad. Far too often we would get an early lead only to sit back, except without our forwards supporting, (so that we can spring our counter attack) and we would see that lead evaporate. Enter the diamond 4-4-2. Cabrera realized at times he would need to have at least one extra player in the midfield in order to defend more. The flexibility of the diamond 4-4-2 also allowed the central attacking midfielder to push into the forward line at times while being able to lend his services to supporting the defense.

While the style offers flexibility it does hinder to some degree our team’s ability to attack relentlessly the way we have early in the season. I also think that one reason we saw the shift to the 4-4-2 was due to Romell Quioto’s injury he suffered with the Honduran National Team. Of the front three we usually trot out, Quioto defends the most and the best, and losing him hurt both the offense and the defense. He is too good to leave on the bench at full health and I think, since he is 100% healthy, we’ll see the 4-3-3 again to begin this game. What I like about the 4-4-2 is that it is easy for Cabrera to shift to it with a single substitution to manage the game as needed. That’s what I think we’ll see.

Cubo Torres has seen a dramatic improvement in form. Are Dynamo fans surprised by his resurgence and how would you go about defending the way he's played this season?

DS: We’re surprised to some degree because this is the Cubo we thought we were getting when he first arrived in Houston. While he was with Owen Coyle and Wade Barrett, he looked uninterested — lazy to some extent — and he lost minutes to the younger Mauro Manotas. Wilmer Cabrera, who coached Cubo during his breakout year with Chivas USA, has put a lot of faith and confidence in him. This has really helped Cubo grow and play the way he wants to. Cabrera designed a system with Cubo as the fulcrum and Cubo has rewarded that faith. He came into preseason having lost some weight and he has seen just about all facets of his game improve. He’s pressuring defenders better, he’s passing better, showing improved vision on the field, he’s winning balls in the air, and he’s scoring from a variety of ways, showing the league he’s more than just a poacher.

Defending Cubo will not be easy, not necessarily because of what Cubo brings, but rather due to who he’s typically attacking with. This offense can hurt teams in so many ways. Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto, Cubo’s usual striking partners, have each scored three goals and will be there to capitalize on any extra attention Cubo may be getting. Instead of focusing on how to defend any of them, the best thing to do will be to keep the ball away from that group. That means possessing the ball in the Dynamo half of the field. Houston’s forwards will be reluctant to get back to defend and help the Dynamo possess.

Any injuries or suspensions we should know about? Your projected lineup and score line prediction?

DS: No injuries/suspensions that would affect the starting XI.

Projected lineup (4-3-3): Joe Willis; DaMarcus Beasley, Leonardo, Adolfo Machado, A. J. DeLaGarza; Alex Lima, Eric Alexander, Ricardo Clark; Romell Quioto, Cubo Torres, Alberth Elis

Predicted outcome: 3-2 Dynamo. We’re great at home and Orlando is coming into town from Toronto. I think we get it done, but old tendencies of struggling to protect leads will resurface and make this game closer than I’d like.

Big thanks to Derek from Dynamo Theory for stopping by and giving us a bit of a scouting report on Houston.