The Dynamo suffered their first 2015 preseason loss against USL side the Austin Aztex after an own goal became the difference between the two sides. On an afternoon where the Dynamo controlled the possession and tempo of the game, the team struggled to create offensive opportunities for themselves and failed to convert on the chances they did have. As the regular season nears we're beginning to see some of the things that are working and some of the things that aren't as the Dynamo continue to fine tune their efforts and tactics until opening day.
Against the Dynamo Academy U-18s, the Dynamo fielded a largely reserve squad of players in their 4-0 victory, but against the Austin Aztex we saw the return of most of the first team players. The team is beginning to take shape in a lot of ways that we expected as Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia are still our go-to wide midfield players, Ricardo Clark is still the central general that he usually is, and DaMarcus Beasley and Kofi Sarkodie are still capable of wide runs from the back.
Individual efforts are hard to fault from most players in this disappointing 1-0 loss, but the team as a unit is very much in preseason mode. Players had to constantly communicate their expectations to each other and frequently vented their frustrations with how slowly the ball was being switched from one side of the field to the other. This team still has a lot of learning to do as rookies adjust to the higher level of competition, veterans adjust to the new system, and coaches work with the players to establish their own way of doing things.
Mixed Results with the 4-5-1
We got a glimpse at the 4-5-1 formation, likely due to the absence of forward Giles Barnes, and we saw some of the positives and negatives of the system. The 4-5-1 defensively worked wonderfully as passing lanes were often clogged and pressure was constantly being put on any Aztex movement up the field. Offensively, the team struggled to find open players down the field and found it difficult to maintain possession in the final third of the field. Will Bruin was the lone striker and he could've benefited from another forward to work off of. Alex Lopez was at the heart of the 4-5-1 playing as the central playmaker, but his role in this game was largely absent.
1) Raúl Rodríguez was my player of the game and that's because my excitement over his level of play is overshadowing his own goal. Rodríguez really is the central defender we've been missing since Bobby Boswell left to D.C. United. The two look nothing alike as Boswell is somewhat stocky and very strong while Rodríguez is on the lanky side, but the two are both very intelligent in how they read the game and their opponents.
Rodríguez made two very difficult tackles in this game in 1v1 opportunities where he cleanly swiped the ball away without drawing much contact on the attacker in a move in which he contorted himself around his man. He looked very comfortable with the first unit and was able to play the ball well out of the back. Don't let the own goal diminish your view of Rodríguez because he's very, very good.
2) The defense overall had a very strong outing. DaMarcus Beasley was very active moving up the field in the first half which opened up the field quite a bit for the Dynamo early on. Jermaine Taylor looked quite comfortable next to Rodríguez and his strength and ability to knock opponents off the ball (almost all tackles were clean too!) served him well. Kofi Sarkodie is also developing his ability to command from the back as he was constantly in communication with those around him which really impressed me. Any attacks that made it through the midfield were thwarted quickly.
3) Possession and general control of the game was in the Dynamo's favor throughout this match. The pressure that the midfield put on the Aztex allowed them to get the ball in good positions, but the final effort was just not there. The team easily strung together sets of passes, switched the field, and created breakaways for themselves all while minimizing their number of turnovers in the midfield.
1) The offense as a whole didn't look comfortable. Will Bruin is a striker that thrives in space and whether that space is created by a target forward near him to draw defenders away from him or created by a forward partner that can spread defenses, he needs it and that's why Giles Barnes's presence was sorely missed in this preseason scrimmage. The offense did pick up some momentum when Chandler Hoffman and Jason Johnson were subbed in and the formation changed to a 4-4-2 which allowed for deeper runs by the two, but unfortunately nothing came from their efforts.
2) Speed. The Dynamo lacked a player higher up the field with enough speed to force errors in their USL opponent. Furthermore their decision making with the ball was slow as the team was often too patient with the ball which allowed for the Aztex time to get back into a defensive shape.
3) Two Thirds of the Honduran Triangle didn't completely bring it in this game. For those unaware, the Honduran triangle is the nickname given to the formation with Boniek Garcia, Alex Lopez, and Luis Garrido on the field at the same time. Boniek actually had a very strong outing I thought, but the same cannot be said of his counterparts in the triangle. Garrido often gave the ball away, sometimes in poor places on the field, and didn't look completely comfortable in the formation. He played well for stretches, and made some of his signature tackles, but his performance as a whole was lacking compared to his great run last year. Alex Lopez started the game out well, but failed to really impact the game as a central playmaker. He needed to assert himself and put his stamp on the game, but his presence wasn't there for most of the game.
The Dynamo should feel like this one got away from them as they controlled most of the game, but failed to muster their offense. Regardless of the outcome - which doesn't matter because this is preseason, the Dynamo have shown us a few positives while highlighting a few of the areas in need of improvement. The team has first and foremost addressed their defensive concerns with the addition of Raúl Rodríguez who has shown that he can lead a defense and make the big plays when he needs to. The team still needs to work on putting away its chances and the 4-5-1 formation hasn't yet lent itself to creating more due to increased pressure on central forward Will Bruin and a lack of support around him, but the return of Giles Barnes to the starting lineup will likely solve a lot of the woes for the team.
For now the loss to a USL squad stinks and it doesn't feel completely justified, but it's time to move on and start thinking about the upcoming matches against higher level competition at the Carolina Challenge Cup and how the team can continue employing its strengths and learn from its mistakes and weaknesses.