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Soccer Science: Crocodile Blood

Its time we stop messing around with small leads and learn to win ugly, because this topic is absolutely relevant and not just an excuse to use a cool title.

Chris Gardner - Getty Images

If you've read anything I've written over the past year, a few things are clear: I'm a nerd, my love for rap music is completely disproportionate to my societal ability to understand rap culture, and I love Houston sports.

I love the Dynamo. In fact, I've loved Houston soccer throughout my life. I even had a birthday party at a Hotshots game once, which was neat.

I love the Texans. I wear the Texans jersey every game that I got from my brother as a Christmas present after our first 8-8 season. It read "Carr" on the back until we signed Stump the Schaub.

I love the Rockets. Yao is everything I want to be when I grow up, sans eggshell metatarsals.

(omit anything about Astros. I'm as bandwagon as they come.)

With all that in mind, I'm going to talk about (American) football for a second, to prove a point. Bear with me, soccer is coming.

The Texans eked out a very ugly win against the New York Jets this past Monday. The offense was scattered and special teams was an embarrassment. But the defense made the huge plays down the stretch to preserve the win. Instead of talking about how the Texans let a far inferior team almost get the best of them, the media is praising the Texans ability to "win ugly" like all champion teams are able to do.

The last month or so of the Dynamo season has been all of that, except for the winning part. Here's some numbers I looked at between lectures on kidney function and cups of coffee. So much coffee.

  • Good: In the four 1-0 games this year, we have come out on top in all of them.
  • Bad: The last one was against RSL a month ago, and before that it was May 12th against DCU.
  • Good: We've even won 2-1 four times this year, without ever losing by that number.
  • Bad: But the last time was July 18th.
  • Over the last one and a half months, we've taken the lead but given up a 1-1 tie three times. That never happened previously.

The Science

I've talked about the human immune system before, but I've since come to learn that its fairly wimpy in comparison to other more awesomer (legit scientific term) immune systems. We live a fairly clean life, so the pathogens we come across are from handshakes, doorknobs, etc. We get a little sick still, but we get better. Nice and easy.

But what if we spent our entire lives in filth like a crocodile. We'd need a pretty efficient immune system if that was the case right? You can't let a little germ hurt you when another crocodile rips your tail off. You need to be able to dance another day with tutu-wearing hippos.

In fact, crocodiles barely ever get infections. So what does the croc immune system do? Allow me to quote:

The crocodile has an immune system which attaches to bacteria and tears it apart and it explodes. It's like putting a gun to the head of the bacteria and pulling the trigger.

Ahem. Holy shit. That is awesome.

These gun-toting bacteria exploders (band name copyright pending), finally getting the respect they deserve, are the subject of intense research. Infections that are devastating for us are a cinch for croc blood - HIV, staph, etc - so the blood could one day serve as the basis for a host of anti-mocrobial agents.

Back to Soccer

The moral of the story? We aren't good at winning ugly. We already knew that on a qualitative scale, and I just wanted to put some numbers to it.

The good news is that we were able to before, and that is key. I don't mean to be too simplistic, but if we can just go back to the way we were in the middle of the season, we'd be golden.

You're right, that was way too simplistic.

Those "ugly" wins came with a lot of help we don't have anymore - Geoff Cameron. But they also came when we had yet to acquire a certain OBG, Giles Barnes, and Rico Clark. There are adjustments that can be made if we do in fact take a shaky 1-0 lead. Or even if we are looking to find that old form once again.

June 30 vs. September 23

Or, 4-1-2-1-2 vs. 4-3-3. Or, again, winning vs. losing to the Philadelphia Union. Our upcoming opponent. Who we need to beat.

This Dynamo formation won


This Dynamo formation lost

After this loss, Stephen rightly predicted that a switch to the 4-4-2 was necessary for a return to winning ways. Then we went and flip-flopped back to a 4-3-3 against Montreal. While the formation leaves us with a wealth of options to work with, namely the ability to free up all sorts of speed from back to front, it left is unable to defend against the break.

Winning ugly is "ugly" for a reason. The 4-4-2 is structured in the middle. Its unsexy. Its conservative. But its efficient. Its Houston.

The 4-1-2-1-2 deployed against Philly in our last win against them was aided by Geoff sitting at the bottom of a midfield diamond. While we really don't have anyone who can defend like him and also move forward with creativity, we could at least utilize that position for more defensive cover in close games. We've already seen how well Rico can do when plugged into the back - his timely tackles against RSL were instrumental in keeping things level before we could take the lead. So giving him room to move above the back four should give our D some extra support under pressure.

Then, Davis, OBG, and Barnes could provide the creative impetus in the attacking midfield.

More than anything - and this is as abstract as they come - we need to find the mental wherewithal to maintain these small leads. I'm fine winning ugly, and I'm fine suffering the blood pressure spike during games, as long as our defense can find a way to stay awake for 90 minutes.

Apropos Music Video of the Week

Crocodile Rock - Elton John

Looking at the upcoming schedule for both Columbus and ourselves, I immediately thought - "oh, they could definitely lose to DCU at RFK". And they could, sure. But they just got a draw at SKC, and while DCU has done well to avoid a collapse after De Ro's injury, I don't think we can depend on them to deal with Columbus for us.

That leaves Philly, who seem determined to mess with our season even though they can't get into the postseason. They're actually playing well, seem to have some power over us, and need to be cool and just let us win, you guys. Gosh.

In all seriousness, I think we figure it out against Philly. Big If: if we change back to a 4-4-2 ish line-up, and designate one of our central mids to help out with a defense that is suddenly prone to lapses.

If we can manage to get the lead, that should be enough to reach the playoffs. Don't pack it in, but recognize that even one tiny invader can lead to a devastating infection.

Just tear them apart and they'll explode. That makes sense. Thanks, science.