While last week’s draw against the New England Revolution didn’t quite doom Orlando City’s playoff hopes, anything less than all three points at this bite of the apple surely will. With that in mind, the Lions will be traveling to Houston tomorrow for their yearly meeting with the Houston Dynamo.
That meant that I spoke with Derek Stowers, editor of SBNation’s Dynamo Theory, and he was kind enough to give us some wonderful insight into Houston’s 2019 season.
It hasn’t been the easiest of years for the Dynamo with the team currently 11th in the West and nine points out of the last playoff spot. What has the team had trouble with this year? Why has Houston struggled?
Derek Stowers: That has been the million dollar question this year and really there are a lot of reasons for blame. The Dynamo actually started this season off with their best start as a franchise, which is pretty impressive considering this is a team with two MLS Cups and four MLS Cup appearances. However, a congested schedule to start things off with Champions League and then the U.S. Open Cup making double game weeks a regular thing, followed by international call-ups, made lineup consistency impossible and made legs heavy early.
On top of that, it seemed like former head coach Wilmer Cabrera had doubled down on several conservative tactics which put pressure on a lineup that hadn’t had time to develop chemistry. That meant defending deeper at home after taking a lead while in a system that depends heavily on offense to succeed and defending deeper on the road looking to steal or draw away from BBVA Stadium. Essentially the tactics didn’t work with the squad and with the lack of a consistent XI the side never had the chance to grow into the team Cabrera wanted it to be.
On the other side of the coin, what have been the bright spots for Houston this year? What does this team do well?
DS: As an optimist I love that there is this side of question 1 to answer because there is plenty to be happy about if you’re a Dynamo fan — although the current standing in the table is not one of those. To start things off, I think the front office has done a tremendous job of addressing needs. I understand that there is a huge outcry from Dynamo loyalists that can’t stand the FO, but they also realize they’re hamstrung by the ownership group and the front office has done a good job with the resources they have. Making the defensive line better over the off-season by acquiring Maynor Figueroa, Kiki Struna, and recently Jose Bizama all show their ability to target areas the Dynamo need to improve. With Romell Quioto essentially blacklisted due to his emotional approach to the game (it’s complicated with this guy!), acquiring Christian Ramirez was a huge find.
In addition to these roster changes, interim manager Davy Arnaud has shown growth in a short amount of time. I’m not sure he will lead the club next season, but each game has shown improvement and this is his time to show his worth if he wants the job next year. Even though the last game was a loss, it wasn’t a poor performance by his team, which had an unfortunate (and I will say wrong) penalty decision and a brief switch off and that decided the match despite an overall positive outing. Even with a low payroll budget, this is a quality team that has under performed this season which means there is plenty of room to improve.
What is your key match-up for this game? What positional battle do the Dynamo need to win in order to take the three points?
DS: There are a few battles to focus on but I will be looking to see how well the Dynamo can defend, especially given how well they typically play at home. Houston Dynamo as a franchise has forged a reputation as a tough team to play at home and while some of that has eroded in recent years due to health concerns about playing in the heat, making way for later start times during the summer, and us generally not being as good as we used to be, we’re still a difficult opponent to best at home. I expect our side to come out with a lot of offense in front of our fans to potentially get an early lead.
However, the match-up I’m looking at is our defense against your offense to see how we can defend that lead. Dom Dwyer likes to get into tiffs with Houston so his antics with a center back pairing that isn’t used to him will be something to see. Same thing with the brilliance of Nani over the ball. Will the 36-year-old Figueroa be able to stay in front of him? Will Kiki Struna? That’s what I’ll be specifically be looking to improve with international duty over.
Are there any call-ups, injuries or suspensions that will keep players unavailable for selection on Saturday? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
DS: With international duty over we did see some players return last weekend with the rest likely coming back. There are a couple of players that are injured, including 2017 team MVP Juan David Cabezas, who suffered a horrific injury in a midweek game against Minnesota United FC which in my view should have been a red card. Additionally missing out is right back and all around great person A.J. DeLaGarza due to a foot fracture.
My projected XI will be a 4-2-3-1:
DaMarcus Beasley, Maynor Figueroa, Kiki Struna, Jose Bizama;
Oscar Boniek Garcia, Matias Vera;
Christian Ramirez, Tomas Martinez, Alberth Elis;
Predicted Score: This is tough because even though I think Elis is arguably one of the team’s best players, he is very one dimensional and hasn’t worked in this offense yet, which has utilized wide players cutting inside to allow space for fullbacks. I think he starts though, and will have the benefit of home field advantage to find success.
We win it 2-1 in a game that looks like the Dynamo are flying ahead before collapsing late, though surviving long enough for the full three points due to the reinforcements from our international players — although a 2-2 draw could certainly be in the works.
Thanks again to Derek for all the great info about the Dynamo.