The Houston Dynamo were back at it Wednesday in the Carolina Challenge Cup which saw the men in orange top MLS newcomer New York City FC 2-1 in their 2nd game of the tournament. On a rainy afternoon, the Dynamo regained some of their composure and strong wide play that was lacking against their first opponent the Charleston Battery which directly led to goals by Dynamo veterans Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia.
The Dynamo went up a goal in the 51st minute after Kofi Sarkodie sent a beautiful cross in which fell back post to a wide open Brad Davis who calmly buried his shot in the low corner. Boniek Garcia would be the next player to find the goal after Brad Davis beat his man on the dribble and picked out Boniek who headed home the goal to put the team up 2-0 in the 70th minute. New York wasn't ready to concede the match yet as a comeback effort was mounted by US Men's National Team member Mix Diskerud, but his one goal wasn't enough as the Dynamo defense weathered an onslaught of late chances.
1) Wide play has been a staple of Houston play and dominated Dominic Kinnear's tactics for years and it's been a huge part of the success of this franchise. The idea is to get players in space out wide and for them to send balls into the box which is crowded with targets. While the Dynamo didn't rely heavily on this strategy in this game, they showed that it is still a huge part of how this team can succeed as both goals were scored off of crosses. The team is still forging its general identity and style of play, but getting the ball out to Brad Davis or Kofi Sarkodie to send in a ball will almost always create a quality opportunity.
2) One thing that was lacking for the Dynamo against the Battery was a solid central midfield pairing that could disrupt counter attacks and midfield possession which could generate chances on offense. In that game, Davis and Boniek had to pinch inside to create that level of pressure, but in this game the return of the Ricardo Clark and Luis Garrido pairing created all sorts of problems for NYCFC. The two pressured the midfield relentlessly and consistently won the ball for the Dynamo and put the ball into dangerous places for the offense. Alex Lopez, playing as a "box-to-box 2nd striker" also helped move the ball up the field and he was part of the buildup that led to the game's first goal.
3) As the game wore on and the Dynamo put in their substitutes and role players, the team had to withstand a lot of pressure from a late push by NYCFC. After Ricardo Clark was substituted for Zach Steinberger and Mix Diskerud entered the game the Dynamo were forced into defending deep as the rookie struggled to contain the USMNT product. David Horst was able to step in and provide composure in the back and solid goalkeeping by Tyler Deric helped preserve the Dynamo lead. The team withstood free kick after free kick and chance after chance and still walked away with the win which is something they'll need to be able to do during the regular season.
1) Not having Giles Barnes really affected how the team maneuvered the ball into the offense. Barnes sat out this game likely to rest after playing over 30 minutes in the previous match last Saturday following his return from injury which he picked up during the team's friendlies in Arizona. His ability to move through midfields and spread defenses would've benefited Will Bruin greatly as Lopez played deeper in the midfield. The advantage to having a forward sitting deeper in the midfield is it creates stronger build up play but the disadvantage, in this case, is it came at a cost to Bruin's ability to play off the ball and space which a tandem forward would've provided. Forward production isn't as important an issue if the midfielders can pick up the slack, but forwards will need to start scoring at some point.
2) Seeing Raúl Rodríguez subbed early to injury is something no Dynamo fan wanted to see. He went out holding his leg after dribbling the ball up the field and making a pass out of the back. His substitution was likely precautionary and his injury nothing serious, but his status is something we'll be sure to keep an eye on with the start of the season around the corner.
3) Allowing teams to play their way back into games was something we saw plenty of during our doldrums last season and was a huge "let's not do that anymore" objective this offseason. While it's obvious that Steinberger vs. Diskerud was the clear culprit in how NYCFC got within a goal of the Houston lead, Garrido's performance seemed to drop off as well and the midfield seemed to be dissected and the openings were easily danced through by New York's offense. Though the team was able to hold onto the victory, they were a few lucky deflections away from being equal.
It's important to keep these ups and downs and the team's general play in context. It's still preseason and things are still being worked out as players regain fitness, lineups and positions are still being tinkered with, and the team is still adjusting tactically how Owen Coyle wants them to play the game.
The Dynamo are back in action this Saturday to play against the other MLS newcomer Orlando City SC in the final game of the tournament.