The Houston Dynamo were defeated last Saturday 1-0 in the Carolina Challenge Cup opening match against host club the Charleston Battery. The loss gives the Dynamo back to back defeats to USL clubs after losing 1-0 to the Austin Aztex following an own goal. Against the Battery, the Dynamo featured a dominating possession performance, but the team rarely threatened the host club's goal and they were often forced to defend against counter attacks and set pieces.
There's still a lot of gelling to be done and tactics to be hammered out as the start of the season inches closer with less than 2 weeks away until opening day. This performance showed some of the areas that still need improvement, which should come in time, and highlighted some of the things that are working for the squad.
1) Having Giles Barnes back and able to put in over 30 minutes gives the squad a lot of options going forward. In this match he played as the lone striker after being subbed on in the 58th minute and though it was a rough outing for him, a lot of that had to do with the inability to get the ball up to him. He still showed some of the skill and speed that he's capable of and seeing him play as long as he did really gives the team more in the long run than it did in this preseason game.
2) Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia both played well out wide in this game and they each started out the game out on the side opposite of their usual wide position. The idea in this strategy is that the player will pull the ball inside more with their preferred foot. Though this strategy was abandoned in the game, both Davis and Boniek were two of the more creative forces for the team and tried to get the ball up the field to the forwards. Boniek had a brilliant move that led to the most dangerous opportunity for the Dynamo as he was able to steal the ball in a dangerous position and then flicked a chip pass to Chandler Hoffman for a shot on goal.
3) Raúl Rodríguez and Kofi Sarkodie are forging a very strong working relationship on the right side of defense. Rodríguez was able to dribble his way through some Battery attackers which helped push the ball up the field with urgency and he made a few key stops as well. He also showed that he in a pinch can play right back which he did when David Horst and AJ Cochran were subbed on. Sarkodie has really gotten comfortable communicating as he moves up the field and dished a few good crosses out.
1) No goals in two games against USL level competition has to be a little unsettling. As someone said in the game thread, the team is still a work in progress, but with less than two weeks to go until the time when the games start to carry weight, the lack of goal production has to be somewhat of a concern.
2) The formation remains a work in progress. The game started out in a flat 4-4-2 formation, but the central midfield pairing of Nathan Sturgis and Luis Garrido had difficulty in pushing the ball up the field to forwards Will Bruin and Chandler Hoffman. Before the 60th-minute mark the formation changed to a 4-5-1 which found some success in reducing turnovers, but still found difficulty in creating quality chances.
3) A lack of penetrating passes was abundantly clear. The team moved the ball around seamlessly for large stretches of the game, but players didn't make the dangerous through passes to open space up for the offense. The team opted primarily to hold possession and redirect the pass backwards in hopes of finding the perfect pass forward.
A number of these issues will be addressed when the starting lineup is fully realized. Having Giles Barnes back either in the midfield or as a forward provides the midfield dangerous runs and space to pass into to open up the offense. Ricardo Clark's passing abilities in central midfield were also missed in this game and his presence in the first team should help alleviate some issues transitioning the ball from the defense and midfield to the forwards.
Although the team has shown us recent struggles it is not time to panic. It's still preseason and 2 weeks of training is a lot of time to figure out lingering issues. The Dynamo now move on from their USL losses to face MLS caliber opponents in the Carolina Challenge Cup with New York City FC up next this Wednesday.