Houston Dynamo vs. San Jose Earthquakes wasn't a sexy match, but it was an important one.
With both teams on the brink of the postseason and neither in particularly good form, it was a must-win for each Western Conference club. Despite only picking up a single point in their past three games and going on the road, a huge struggle for them, the Dynamo were the victors by a score of 2-0.
Houston did it without four of their regular starters due to the Gold Cup: Honduran midfielders Luis Garrido and Boniek Garcia, center-back Jermaine Taylor from Jamaica, and forward Giles Barnes, teammates with Taylor.
While their opponents were also short-handed (the hosts were missing Chris Wondolowski), it was a nice win for a struggling club that needed one.
Quick notes from a tactical standpoint:
1) Dynamo find success down the left flank
The first goal of the match, scored by Ricardo Clark, came about due to Alexander Lopez's success down the left side of the field.
Left back DeMarcus Beasley received a ball outside the box to start the play. This was one of the multiple examples in which he pushed up the field and created chances (although most of them were in the first half). He slid a pass into the near corner where Lopez was and the left-mid found room and put the ball onto his preferred right foot. The Honduran lifted a ball into the box toward Clark, who headed it home to open the scoring.
These kind of chances generated from the left flank were a common occurrence, specifically in the first half. Lopez had a very good game, and with Beasley's offensive talent, chances were abundant. While many of them didn't result in shots on goal, they did do an efficient job of not only getting more possession in the final third for Houston but taking away chances from San Jose.
The question is why didn't they keep attacking there? According to whoscored.com, 34 percent of Houston's attack was generated down the left side, three percent less than the right side.
The main reason for that can be explained by Beasley's defending responsibilities. With the score 1-0 for 70 minutes of the game and Sanna Nyassi and Matias Perez Garcia attacking towards the US-international, Beasley was forced to focus on stopping the attack rather than sending in crosses with Lopez.
Look for Beasley and Beasley to be paired together again against Real Salt Lake as Beasley’s ability to overlap and Lopez’s playmaking prowess, goals are likely to be generated just as they were on Friday.
2) Dynamo fail to counter-attack
Possibly the Dynamo's biggest weakness Friday night was their lack of a counter-attack.
While Will Bruin's game-clinching goal did technically come on a counter, that came about more because of a bad San Jose turnover than anything else.
There were multiple reasons for the mostly-slow pace. The fact that they were missing three speedy playmakers certainly played a part, and the midfield's struggle to take the ball away also did.
But while a potent counter-attack surely would have helped, it surprisingly didn't play all that big of a part. One thing that the Dynamo did very well was keep possession in the final third, and that seemed to make up for what they were lacking in the speed department.
When they were able to have many of their players push up the field and take possession, they set up like a hockey team on the power play, passing it around the top of the box, down the wings, and, eventually, into the box. They very well could've scored off one of those opportunities.
They needed to do that more often.
Instead, many of their attacks ended when a through ball went too far and rolled out of bounds or into the hands of David Bingham.
Owen Coyle will surely take note of that and make the adjustment for their next game.
3) Backline (mostly) plays well
Houston's defense, without Taylor, played well, for the most part. David Horst and Raúl Rodriguez started in the middle with Beasley and Kofi Sarkodie on the wings.
They did a good job with possession and distributing the ball (as shown by the Dynamo's 54% possession). What they really did well was keeping San Jose out of the box.
Out of the Earthquakes' eight shots on target, only four of them came from inside the box, and those were right at the edge, not too much of a threat to Tyler Deric. That is a result of them holding strong as a line. They didn't commit many fouls that resulted in dangerous free-kicks and tackled exceptionally.
But they shouldn't have allowed San Jose to shoot 13 times, especially because the Earthquakes were 19th in MLS in total shots on target entering the week, and they were without their best player.
The back four let their opponents shoot from outside the box way too much. They failed to challenge incoming attackers enough, letting them have free-shots.
They're lucky that none of them challenged Deric all that much.