The Houston Dynamo are looking to win their first road game of the year at Red Bull Arena against the New York Red Bulls. The Dynamo are coming off an inspiring 5-0 win at home over FC Dallas, but will have to remain sharp against a club hungry for its first points (and goals) of the year.
In our preview of the match we discussed injuries that could impact the team's performance, but we wanted to learn a bit more about the Red Bulls so we spoke with the folks at Once a Metro to gain more perspective about the reigning Supporter Shield champions.
Dynamo Theory: The Red Bulls finished last season with the Supporter's Shield, but were knocked out of the MLS Cup playoffs in the Conference Finals against the MLS Cup runner-up Columbus Crew SC. What are the expectations about where this club should finish and what would need to happen for the year to be considered a failure based on last season's finish?
Once a Metro: The expectations coming into the season were MLS Cup or bust. When you win the Shield in 2 out of 3 seasons, and get very close to the MLS Cup final two years in a row, fans are going to want to take that next step. After the first two games though, I think the idea of the Shield might not be in the mind of a lot of fans, although we know in MLS anything can happen. Making the playoffs and getting to MLS Cup are still valid expectations. The US Open Cup is another matter as the fan base has mixed feelings for it, but the team has said they will go after any trophy they can in 2016. As for what would be a failure this year, it's simple: not making it past the knockout round of the playoffs, and maybe even failing to make the Conference Finals.
DT: While the reigning Supporter's Shield winners had the most potent offense in terms of goals scored, the club has yet to find its way on the score sheet in the 2016 MLS regular season. Is something not clicking, or is it simply shaking off the offseason rust?
OaM: Probably a bit of both. The team trained to play with Gonzalo Veron as a creative presence, and if you look at preseason, it's night and day. The Red Bulls were scoring two or more goals in most of their preseason contests. Veron injured his hamstring in the last preseason match against Jacksonville Armada FC, and has been missing since. On the flip side, even though the starting midfield & forward is the same as last season, they have been off for a few since. In addition to all of this, you have to consider how Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact played against New York. Both of them played in a way which neutralized the high pressure system of the Red Bulls, which is what really powered the offense in 2016. If the Red Bulls can adjust to the rest of the league figuring out the high press, then the offense might pick back up.
DT: While the attention has been on the Red Bull offense for not performing, the defense has equally shown poorly. Is that something the Dynamo could exploit with our attacking oriented style? Or has the defense just lacked the support as the club often needed to push higher up the pitch to get goals on the board?
OaM: The defensive woes are part new back line and part system. The Red Bulls right now do not have both of the starting center backs from most of last season. Matt Miazga was sold to Chelsea during the January window. Damien Perrinelle went down with an ACL injury in the playoffs against D.C. United, and isn't expected back until at least April. The Red Bulls brought in Gideon Bahh to replace Miazga, and so far he has shown well on an individual basis, especially in shutting down Sebastian Giovinco in week 1. Ronald Zubar was with the team last year, but he wasn't a regular starter. Zubar was also suspended for week 2 due to a harsh tackle against Toronto, so Karl Ouimette had to fill in.
I said the other part was the system. The Red Bulls' high pressure system asks the fullbacks to join the attack. This leaves the Red Bulls open to the counter attack. Not all the goals the team has given up have been on the counter, but it doesn't help the situation. Toronto beat New York by inviting pressure and hitting a quick counter with their speed. Montreal beat New York with sharp passing. Those are the two ways to beat a high pressure system, and if Houston can do either, they'll have a good chance at a win.
Projected Lineup: (4-2-2-2): Luis Robles; Kemar Lawrence, Ronald Zubar, Gideon Baah, Sal Zizzo; Dax McCarty, Felipe Martins; Sacha Kljestan, Lloyd Sam; Gonzalo Veron, Bradley Wright-Phillips
Predicted Outcome: 1-0 win for the Red Bulls. The Red Bulls will get out of the scoring drought while the defense gets its act together for at least one game.
For my answers to Once a Metro's questions, check them out here!