Houston Dynamo fans' opinion over the importance of the US Open Cup seems to vary from person to person. Obviously we all share a "win everything" mentality, but former head Coach Dominic Kinnear often mixed in reserve players with a few regulars in order for his first unit to get properly rested for league action. Prioritizing the MLS Cup over the US Open Cup clashes with the "let's go after everything" mentality, which divides fans and starts debates about how to weigh the competitions in relation to each other.
New Dynamo head Coach, Owen Coyle, has promised some changes, but with a league game coming this weekend in Portland, it's hard to imagine that a US Open Cup match will get many starting caliber players. The close timing of a league game coupled with the international absences of Jermaine Taylor, Giles Barnes, and DaMarcus Beasley and injuries to players like Oscar Boniek Garcia and Brad Davis certainly open the doors to newer players to see the field.
The best news is that this Houston squad is deeper than it has been in the past. Players like Nathan Sturgis have stepped up this season and could provide Ricardo Clark or his usual CM partner Luis Garrido, who is in Houston, a break before Saturday's match against the Portland Timbers. Kofi Sarkodie will likely see time and Corey Ashe can provide the team with plenty of speed and experience at LB while Beasley is with the US Men's National Team.
Other players that could see time include the gifted striker Chandler Hoffman, our first pick of this year's draft CM Zach Steinberger, the energetic left winger Rob Lovejoy, the versatile Midfielder Alex, whom we traded Jason Johnson to Chicago for, and the dynamic left/right midfielder Leonel Miranda. Who gets the starting call depends a lot on the tactical formation that Owen Coyle elects to use for this game and predicting how he mixes reserve players with regulars is uncharted territory so far.
My Predicted Starting XI
This isn't my ideal starting group, merely a prediction of what we could see. I think in central defense we'll see David Horst and Raul Rodriguez paired together which gets Sarkodie and Ashe back, providing plenty of experience in the back for goalkeeper Joe Willis - who is a very capable keeper. In the central midfield, the versatility of the Brazilian Alex will pair with Sturgis, although I wouldn't be surprised if Ricardo Clark was given the starting nod and subbed early, while Rob Lovejoy and Alex Lopez set up shop on the wings. Up top we have Chandler Hoffman pairing with the red hot Will Bruin, who will be an early sub, but why not start your hot striker while Giles Barnes is away?
This assumes a 4-4-2, though we could see the return of the 4-5-1, which Coyle utilized while the team settled in earlier in the MLS season. This group could benefit from a defensive shape early in the match in which case a combination of 3 defensive midfielders could hold things down. That would pair Clark, Steinberger, Garrido (unlikely), Sturgis, or Alex together to clog any attacks from forming and prevent counter attacks.
It's hard to say how the starting unit will look with absolute certainty, but this roster has talent up and down it which could give the Aztex a run for their money. So how would you go up against the Aztex? Would you go to your regular group of players, minus the injured and absent guys, or would you also have an eye on Saturday's game at Portland and mix things up with some newer faces? Let us know and be sure to brag about your lineup in the comments below!