Behind Enemy Minds: A 3x3 with The Daily Wiz' Justin Mayhugh

Captain Kamehameha and Cousin It (aka Roger Espinoza) plan to be at it again tonight. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

The Roman philosopher, rhetorician and satirist Apuleius is well-know (though perhaps not by name because to save us all time, I went ahead, looked up who said this quote and replied "Who?") for the quote, "Familiarity breeds contempt, while rarity wins admiration."

In my research, I also discovered that Apuleius is also well-known for saying: "He is better equipped for life, as for swimming, who has the less to carry." Well, the Houston Dynamo are certainly carrying fewer points at the moment than Sporting Kansas City, to the tune of 28-36, so at least we've got that going for us. However, tonight, we're going to try to ignore that Roman's advice and accumulate a few more, taking on the Sporks at 7:30 p.m. at BBVA Compass Stadium.

But to refer to the first quote, this will be the second time in 11 days the Orange have faced the Blue, as the two sides fought to a 0-0 draw July 7 at Livestrong. We don't see each other again until back at Livestrong on Sept. 14, so the two teams may not feel as much contempt for each other in the regular season as they will tonight. This is the second of a three-games-in-one-week Cagestand for Dynamo, and it could not have started better, with a thorough 4-0 dismantling of DC United on Sunday night. That win knocked DCU off the top of the Eastern table in favor of the Sporks, so tonight we get to go after the Eastern leaders again. And of course it ends with the L'Impact here Saturday night, same Bat time, same Bat Cage.

And to give you some perspective on how that will be done, here's a back-and-forth I conducted with The Daily Wiz'Justin Mayhugh earlier this week, with whom familiarity has definitely not bred contempt, as he is a standup guy. He also fired some Qs my way, and those, as well as my responses are here. (You can also check them out after the fold.) So, without further ado, read on, and as always, your attempts to answer the same questions are more than welcome in the comments.

Scarf_medium Me: Sporting KC has been at or near the top of the table all season, especially after a blistering start. With the solid defense, which was on display in the 0-0 draw between these two teams July 7, it's easy to see why. However, the question I have for you is, what do you consider to be SKC's main weaknesses? All teams have their Achilles' heels, the weak links that show up time and time again, and over which the team's main strengths tend to paper over. What are SKC's?

Justinsolo_medium I think it's safe to say Sporting Kansas City's biggest weakness has been their inability to finish their scoring opportunities. Kansas City has taken 307 total shots this season. They lead the league in that number. Unfortunately, they have only scored 25 goals. That's a very telling statistic, and definitely one that I think a number of Sporting fans are a little worried about. It's actually a little puzzling to me. Kansas City has a number of scoring options up top in Kei Kamara, CJ Sapong, Teal Bunbury and Jacob Peterson. Peterson has actually been playing very well for Kansas City as of late. Perhaps another reason for the lack of scoring is that I don't feel Kansas City has a consistent playmaker in their midfield to provide the passes that unlock opposing defenses. Graham Zusi can be that playmaker sometimes, but I don't feel like he's a natural number 10. So, it's probably a combination of having a true playmaker in the midfield, and the fact that Kansas City hasn't done very well in their shot selection at times. It's definitely something the team will have to improve on if they really hope to make a run in the playoffs this year.

Scarf_medium Me. Let's talk defense. Since a 4-0 pasting at the hands of the Phunions on June 23 (avenged by knocking them out of the US Open Cup), Sporting KC has not surrendered more than a goal in a game in its last six (including two Cup matches). Overall, there have only been two MLS games where SKC has conceded more than once. Not only that, like Dynamo, the team is on a three game streak of clean sheets. We saw Jimmy Nielsen deny Boniek Garcia in a 1-on-1 early in the match at Livestrong July 7, and his prowess as a keeper is obviously an asset. However, who have been the sung and unsung stars of the defensive effort? Who keeps you guys strong at the back in order to prevent Nielsen from having to be the hero?

Justinsolo_medium Well, Nielsen and center back Aurelien Collin will be playing in the MLS All Star Game that's coming up, and I do feel like that recognition is well-deserved. However, if someone were to ask me who the most important player in Kansas City's back line is, I'd have to say Matt Besler. For as good as Collin has been for us this season, he's also a bit of a maverick defensively. Besler is the ying to Collin's yang. Besler is an extremely smart player tactically, and he's rarely ever caught out of position. He also does a magnificent job in covering the center of Kansas City's defense when Collin decides to roam, so it's safe to say that Besler allows Collin to play with the authority in which he does. When Besler missed a few games in June, you could definitely see he was missed. That 4-0 loss at PPL Park against the Union was a match where Besler was out, and I don't think that was a coincidence. Simply put: Matt Besler is the heart of Kansas City's back line, and he was probably every bit as deserving, if not more, to play in the All Star Game as Collin.

Scarf_medium Me: In MLS play, your Sporks have only surrendered 17 goals, the best in the league, which compensates some for the goal tally of 25, which is only fifth best in the Eastern Conference (ninth best overall). And as a matter of fact, it compensates well, because the +8 goal differential is tied with DC United for second-best in the league. The 4-3-3 is supposed to be an offensive-minded system, and yet SKC has struggled to generate much of an attack. With a strike tandem of former Dynamo Kei Kamara, noted Hope Solo-serenader C.J. Sapong and Teal Bunbury, among others, to what do you attribute this lack of goalscoring? Also, what has changed, if anything, since SKC has scored more than once in three of its last four matches in all competitions? Is the offense waking up?

Justinsolo_medium I'd like to think the offense is waking up, and I definitely think Sporting head coach Peter Vermes inserting Jacob Peterson on the left wing has helped things out a bit, but I'm still not sold totally on our front line.

Teal is a little bit of a frustrating player for me, because physically he has all of the tools to be a huge success in MLS, and probably in Europe as well. But I think it's safe to say that he's not a player that gives maximum effort on a consistent basis. The times that he does, he can be brilliant. Last year when Kansas City played the Colorado Rapids in the playoffs, he was great. And when he was subbed into the game in the second half of Sporting's 2-0 victory over Columbus on Saturday he was able to put the game away with a nice finish. It's just that he's wildly inconsistent.

With Kei, a lot of times I think it comes down to poor shot selection. Kamara is second in the league in total shots this season (74), but he's only scored 6 goals. It is true that Kansas City's scoring comes from a lot of different players. Sapong, Zusi, Kei, Teal, and now Jacob Peterson, but to me, if you are going to take that many shots, you have to score more goals than 6.

If I'm being completely honest in regards to CJ, I would have to say I think he's had a slightly disappointing sophomore campaign. Some of that may have to do with the fact that he has played a lot on the left wing with Bobby Convey being injured, but even when CJ has played up top in his natural position, I don't think we've seen the kind of progress many were expecting.

I suppose I'm inclined to think that the goals will start coming on a consistent basis any time now. All of the aforementioned players are solid MLS players, so I think it might just be a rare situation where all three players are slightly out of form in regards to goal scoring at the same time. At least, that's what I'm hoping.

And here are Justin's questions to me, followed by my attempts to answer.

Justinsolo_medium 1. The internet has been abuzz recently about a possible Geoff Cameron transfer to Stoke City. First, it was a done deal, then it was off, then it was back on again. What have you heard over the past couple of days about Cameron's status, and what are your personal feelings on Cameron possibly moving to the Premier League? Who will Houston look to to try and compensate for the loss of Geoff?


Scarf_medium First off, according to the Houston Chronicle's Jose de Jesus Ortiz, the deal is almost done as of today (Tuesday). As I write this, Cameron is now negotiating directly with Stoke on terms of the deal, meaning MLS and Dynamo have already signed off. So this past Sunday was more than likely Cameron's last game in Orange (and natch, it was the first home game I had to miss all year :<).

My personal feeling is that I could not be happier for Geoff. Here was a guy who was the 42nd overall pick in the 2008 SuperDraft out of the University of Rhode Island. Almost completely unheralded, he has done nothing but shine since arriving here. Dominic Kinnear is well known as a good drafter, getting players such as Danny Cruzand Stuart Holden with low picks. Well, this Cameron one is right up there.

To wit, in that same draft your boys grabbed Chance Myers with the No. 1 overall selection. Look at this list here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_MLS_SuperDraft) for the complete draft order. Among others drafted high were: Brek Shea, Sean Franklin and, in addition to Myers, 38 others who I think it's fair to say are quite envious of where Cameron is now.

That being said, Dynamo are well-positioned depth-wise such that the blow of losing him is obviated. The back four of Andre Hainault (Canadian international), Bobby Boswell, Jermaine Taylor (Jamaican international and the best defender on the team so far this season) and Corey Ashe is pretty well set, with backup strength coming from journeyman squad player Nate Sturgis, US U-23 player Kofi Sarkodie ( who is almost recovered from a lingering foot injury) and draft pick Warren Creavalle.

At defensive midfielder, which is where Cameron played in his final games in Orange, Adam Moffat is the established starter. However, it was just announced that Ricardo Clark was been cut free by Eintracht Frankfurt. He is 29 and Dynamo own his MLS rights. The speculation is that he will return to the US. If he is anywhere near his form when he left, where he was the DMid starter for two MLS Cup champions (though he missed both finals with suspensions) and another team that made it to the Western finals, Dynamo will hardly miss a beat. Don't get me wrong, Cameron is a quality, quality player, and anyone would miss him, but he has been playing in what is arguably Dynamo's deepest position.

Justinsolo_medium 2. This past Sunday we saw what may have been the Dynamo's best performance all season long (4-0 win over DC United). It was a bit of a departure compared to the past couple of matches for Houston, where they were held scoreless in games against Chicago and Sporting. DC are one of the best teams in MLS this season, yet Houston was able to dismantle them rather easily. What do you think was different aboutHouston offensively in that DC match, compared to the previous two matches? How has the team dealt with the 4-3-3 formation Kinnear has implemented recently?


Scarf_medium The danger for me in breaking down that game is not to get too over the moon about the result and the overall performance. It is true that for the first 16 minutes, the game was quite even, with the run of play actually tilting toward DCU. As a matter of fact, Chris Pontius was peppering the goal and Dynamo were lucky not to be down a goal.

And then came the 17th minute. Bill Hamid is a fine keeper, but they come smarter, and his ridiculous take-down of Macoumba Kandji in the box bought him an early shower and handed the Dynamo a quick 1-0 lead. After that, DCU played tight for awhile, but Dynamo did something they have rarely done this season. They put their foot down on the accelerator and never let up. It was impressive. The team as a whole smelled blood and attacked in waves, something we had not yet seen. By the middle of the second half, when the third goal went in, DCU stopped running and it was all over but the shouting, and the Brian Ching penalty, earned after another brain-dead Danny Cruz tackle of Calen Carr in the box.

As for the 4-3-3, it's there, but hardly is it a doctrinaire 4-3-3. I see less of the 4-3-3 in the formation than I do a very fluid 4-4-2, or rather a 4-1-3-2. Our new Designated Player Boniek Garcia has been a revelation. He is very much a box-to-box midfielder on the right side with the most technical skill of any Dynaman since De Rosario was here. He was eating Pontius' lunch all night Sunday. He rarely gets the ball without beating one or two guys, and he tracks back impressively. What a work rate! Also, his movement off the ball is something to see. He is tactically aware, blessed with skill and speed and knows what he wants to do with the ball before he receives it. Paired with Hainault on the right, he more than makes up for the Canadian's relative lack of wheels. And he also balances the attack right and left, taking pressure off Brad Davis and Ashe over on the left. In the meantime,Luiz Camargo/Je-Vaughn Watson and Moffat are both strong in the middle, leaving Kandji/Ching and Bruin to move about up top. That being said, Dynano bog down at times in the middle, and using some of that Cameron transfer scratch on a central attacking midfielder or forward is, I think, be No. 1 on team president Chris Canetti's to-do list. That's the area of greatest need, even after losing Cameron.

The DCU game was only one game, but if that is what we can expect from this team down the stretch, especially after re-signing a motivated Ricardo Clark, Dynamo suddenly have gotten a lot more dangerous.

Justinsolo_medium 3. What have your thoughts been thus far on Boniek Garcia? He nearly won the last match up with Sporting if not for a very good save from Kansas City goalkeeper, Jimmy Nielsen. Halfway through the season, who do you feel has been the team's most valuable player?

Scarf_medium Well, I seem to have responded to the Boniek Garcia question in my previous answer, so I'll leave that there. Except, I would say that it was pointed out that his headed goal against DCU was the first headed goal he has ever scored in his pro career. It was reminiscent of the snap header to win MLS Cup 2007 from De Ro, another guy who rarely scores with his head. Boniek is not an out and out goal scorer, but boy does he create.

I honestly believe the team's MVP at this point of the season should be split between Will Bruin and Jermaine Taylor. Bruin, in his sophomore season, has been a starter from Day 1. He scored five goals last year and already has 10 this season. The team record is Brian Ching's 13 in 2008. For a team that has a lack of quality at the forward position, the Dancing Bear has been Mr. Reliable. Personally, I think too much has been made of Bruin's difficulty adjusting to the 4-3-3 (or whatever they're playing), as he has had his chances since Boniek Garcia arrived. He was just blistering in the two weeks before and cooled some, hence what I consider to be a mistaken conclusion. They come faster, but Bruin's work rate is top notch. He is sneaky quick in there and defenders lose track of him at their peril.

As for Jermaine Taylor, he has been an absolute beast from the back. If I had to choose between Bruin and Taylor for the team MVP so far, I'd give it to Bruin because he has started from the get-go, while Taylor didn't come on strong until May. Taylor is the captain of the Jamaican national team, a natural center back and absolute nails. One area in which he has improved from last year, and what has charged up his play, is his ability to stay with speedy attackers, and then recover if they get by him, winning the ball back. Landon Donovan's speed ate him up at MLS Cup, but I think it's illustrative to note that the lone goal in that match came when Donovan switched to the other side (and Cameron was playing injured). Taylor was easily Dynamo's Man of the Match at Livestrong July 7th and without him we do not walk out of there with that point. Simple. As. That.

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