Owen Coyle receives his first true (and uniquely MLS) coaching challenge this weekend as he looks to fill holes left by sudden injury and FIFA dates.
This might take awhile. For Colorado, problems run rampant through their defense. Drew Moor, who acted as the Rapids' iron man for the past two seasons, went out last August with an ACL tear and continues to rehab. Another Colorado defender, Marlon Hairston, suffered a shoulder injury and remains out. Yet another defender, Shane O'Neill - who played a full 90 against NYCFC last weekend - is off on International Duty with the US-U23 squad.
Houston fares perhaps poorer by comparison. The team is plagued by four International absences to starters - Giles Barnes (Jamaica), Jermaine Taylor (Jamaica), Boniek Garcia (Honduras), and Luis Garrido (Honduras). Ricardo Clark picked up an injury to his chest last weekend and Owen Coyle seems particularly concerned, citing him as "very doubtful" this weekend. DaMarcus Beasley (hamstring) and game-saver Nathan Sturgis (hip) are pegged at 70% ready for Saturday and may have to play at less-than-100 with absences all over the starting eleven. Raul Rodriguez, after missing last week's match, appears to be ready to come back from his hamstring injury and will certainly be needed to replace Taylor.
Colorado comes into this match without a single goal to their tally but also haven't let one in through two matches. A lot of that praise can be heaped upon their goalkeeper Clint Irwin who had an excellent game against an attack-heavy NYCFC last week (not to mention his Save of the Week candidate). Sitting right in front of Irwin has been a formidable back line that will see the absence of O'Neill but also the towering presence of Axel Sjoberg. The 6'7" rookie is developing well in Colorado and comes to Houston in very good form.
On the other side of the pitch, the Dynamo will need to work at containing Dillon Powers who, despite the anemic goal and assist tallies, is an otherwise great distributor of the ball and an attacking threat. Even though Colorado has struggled to find the net, Powers has helped lead an offense that recorded 21 shots last week against New York City.
Dealing with Loss
As the hectic offseason winded down, Dynamo fans were proud to finally see quite a bit of depth in the squad. In just the third week, we all get to put that depth to the test. The defense, in particular, will see a bit of shuffling with the likely return of Rodriguez and the possible loss of Beasley. Should Beasley not be fit to suit up, that could finally bring minutes to Corey Ashe or, as we saw against Orlando, an opportunity for AJ Cochran.
With defensive midfielders Clark and Garrido both missing Saturday night, Coyle will have to get creative to contain a hungry Colorado offense. This could mean seeing an out-of-position player get a run-out (perhaps Cochran?) similar to how we saw Boniek pushed into a forward role versus Orlando City.
Speaking of which, the Dynamo will be without starting strikers, offering a chance for Coyle, again, to be creative in his formation. Will Bruin and Chandler Hoffman are likely to reap the most benefits, but there also is a possibility that Leonel Miranda could get a shot to start. If nothing else, Coyle has proven through three weeks of lineups that he can be unpredictable with a full squad to choose from. With his options severely limited, he'll have his greatest test yet and that makes him difficult for fans and, say, Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni, to foresee a lineup on Saturday night.
The Houston Dynamo will face Colorado Rapids at BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday, March 28 at 7:30PM. Tickets are still available at HoustonDynamo.com. The game can be seen on ROOT Sports and listened to on the radio at 1560/850AM.