The Dynamo were back in preseason action this past Saturday and fielded a largely reserve squad against the Dynamo U-18 Academy team. The Dynamo were able to best the youngsters 4-0 following a very assertive 2nd half effort. Preseason is a time for the team to come together as roster spots fall into place and the team develops tactically and there are a few things that stood out in this match:
The First Half
In the first half the Dynamo struggled to pressure the U-18 team and although the defense held up quite well against any threats on their own goal, transitioning the ball to offense was much more difficult than it needed to be. There were a few bright spots as Chandler Hoffman was able to find the net on a breakaway started by a brilliant between the legs pass by Memo Rodriguez and Alex Lopez struck the center of the crossbar with a shot from distance, but the Dynamo reserves could have done more with the chances that they had which is exactly what they did in the second half.
Set Pieces and Breakaways
In the second half, the Dynamo came out looking motivated and pressured the Academy team much more than they had in the first half which led to more opportunities. The team also got back to a familiar brand of soccer that Dynamo fans are used to: the importance of set piece opportunities. The Dynamo were able to take advantage of these chances twice within the first 5 minutes of the start of the 2nd half. First a Nathan Sturgis free kick was headed in by AJ Cochran in the 47th minute, and then Jason Johnson headed home an Alex Lopez corner kick just 3 minutes later. The Dynamo have a number of quality set piece targets and designated kickers this year and set piece chances and set piece defending will be very significant to the team's successes and has been a point of emphasis for the squad.
Set pieces weren't the only brand of attractive soccer that was being exhibited as the team was able to make the most out of their pressuring, make intelligent passes, and convert their chances. Twice in this game Memo Rodriguez was able to make the through pass to find a streaking Chandler Hoffman for a goal, but the team as a whole took advantage of pressing the Academy squad and pushing the ball up the field quickly. This kept the ball moving, the players moving (which will be a huge advantage for teams not used to Texas heat this summer), provided chances on goal, and kept the ball away from our own net.
The combination of set pieces and breakaways isn't a complete strategy for this team, but their usefulness stood out in this second half and showed how turning a switch or changing something at half time can see immediate results (or 3 goals in 8 minutes).
Three up, three down is something I first saw on the blog that covers the Houston Rockets, The Dreamshake and I think it works pretty well in concisely recapping a few of the positives and negatives which is perfect for a preseason game.
1) Chandler Hoffman continues to shine this preseason and is not only contending for a spot on the Dynamo roster, but for quality minutes as well. He's doing a bit of everything for the offense as he's spreading defenses with his speed, disappearing between players and peeling out into space and creating a breakaway opportunity, coming back to help defend, and (most importantly) he's finishing his chances.
2) Memo Rodriguez provided the pass to Hoffman for both of his goals and is showing a high level of intelligence over the ball. He's creative, has loads of vision, and is still refining his craft. His passing stood out most to me, but his ability read players and take them on the dribble was also very impressive. Memo may not stay in Houston simply because he's new and the midfield is quite crowded, but if he sees time with the Charleston Battery, he'll do very well.
3) The more I see of Zach Steinberger, the more I'm convinced that picking him as early as the Dynamo did was the right move. I think Steinberger saw more of the ball than any other player on the field and while he didn't score or provide an assist, he was involved in a lot of the quality passing and pressured the ball defensively very well.
1) The First Half, which I already mentioned above, was a disappointment as the game was level until the very end of the half. Credit the first half Academy keeper Johan Welch for a few big saves, but the Dynamo failed to capitalize on a number of their opportunities, transition the ball effectively, and control the midfield for extended periods of time. That did all change in the 2nd half as they turned things around, but one has to wonder what was going on earlier.
2) One saying I heard a lot of growing up playing soccer was "you did everything right up until the final effort". The Dynamo seemed to string together very nice short passes leading to a shot that would be missed or a player would dribble through a number of opponents only to give the ball away on a poor pass. This isn't a huge negative point as it didn't persist enough throughout the game, but the difference in seeing playing time or seeing time in Charleston for some players really could come down to that final effort being there or not.
3) Jason Johnson didn't look completely comfortable and he looked to be trying to do a bit too much. A few times in this game he was caught taking an extra touch with the ball or was trying to get fancy and it resulted in the ball going out of bounds or it went to the Academy squad. Yes, JJ was able to net himself a goal, but he could've done a bit more to help his chances with the team.
Overall, there isn't much to gripe about in a 4-0 win for the team and all of my 3 down points can be countered with: the second half erased the first half and the first half really wasn't that bad at all, the final effort was there 4 times, and JJ was able to score. There's still more preseason action to come and plenty to keep your excitement going until the start of the regular season with their next game Wednesday afternoon at 1 PM against the Austin Aztex before the team travels to Charleston to take part in their annual preseason tournament.