The Houston Dynamo vs. Vancouver Whitecaps matchup was expected by many to be a thrilling goal-fest. After all, the Dynamo appeared to be very good at creating those types of games, at least judging from their first three matches.
Their offense was dynamic, with Will Bruin and others snuffing out goals from everywhere, but the defense was porous, consistently making avoidable mistakes and allowing opponents to get in on goal way too easily. But in Vancouver, everything calmed down, as the offense struggled against the Whitecaps' compact 4-4-2 formation and the defense tightened up, cutting down mistakes and doing a serviceable job of preventing the opposition from breaking them down. Despite plenty of shots coming from both teams, it was a fairly uneventful game.
But one of the few moments during the late west coast contest that harkened back to previous Dynamo performances—specifically the one against the New York Red Bulls last week—came in the 15th-minute, when Whitecaps' striker Masato Kudo, making his MLS debut in place of Blas Perez, who was away on international duty, found himself in on goal one-on-one against Joe Willis. Defensive errors and speedy counter-attacks were at a premium Saturday night, but they almost combined to produce a goal early on.
Here's how it happened:
The play begins with the Whitecaps sprinting out of their own final third after successfully defending a corner: Octavio Rivero picks up the ball after David Horst failed to deflect the corner kick toward the front of the box. Rivero has ample room to run and sees that the Dynamo are vulnerable at the back.
Kudo is directly in front of his striking partner, and Kekuta Manneh (top, blue arrow) is sprinting ahead. The counter is on.
Morales makes the pass, but it's a bit off, as Jalil Anibaba appears to be in perfect position to intercept it and prevent anything disastrous for the Dynamo. Only one other player is back defensively for the Orange.
Manneh continues to run at Anibaba, and Kudo is there as support.
Somehow, Anibaba lets the ball get through him and to the feet of Manneh, who now has a lot of room to run. DaMarcus Beasley (7) will have to chase down the speedy Gambian, as Anibaba won't be able to stop him.
Kudo continues to run down the field in support of Manneh.
Manneh takes a huge touch down the field, allowing him to run onto the ball and take Anibaba out of the picture. Beasley is the only player who has an opportunity to chase him down.
Still, Kudo is the only other Whitecap joining in pursuit of this counter. For right now, it's Manneh vs. Beasley.
Manneh runs down his long touch, and, after settling it and waiting for others to come into the play, he squares it across to Fraser Aird, the Whitecaps' right-back who entered the play late. Kudo, after running all the way down the field, is behind the Canadian.
Beasley was unable to prevent the pass to Aird and now will have to challenge the number-eight. Because of Anibaba's mistake, the Dynamo are forced to play two-against-three, leaving plenty of room for Kudo to make a run into the box.
As a third Dynamo player tracks back and almost gets to Aird, Kudo finds the hole between Beasley and Anibaba, making an incisive run and locating the abundant space created by Beasley's challenge on the right-back.
Kudo's movement was superb all game, and he consistently caused the Dynamo backline problems. His role as a second forward will give Carl Robinson lots of questions about whether to stick with the Japanese-international or go back to Blas Perez when Vancouver host the LA Galaxy next week. This is another example of Kudo's movement creating chances for the Caps.
Aird slips him through and Kudo has a one-on-one opportunity against Joe Willis. It was a great ball from Aird, but Willis would make a better save.
By this time, another Dynamo player has gotten back into the play, but it's too little, too late.
Kudo shoots it directly at Willis, who positions himself well and gets his body behind the shot. The backup keeper—starting in place of the injured Tyler Deric—has had issues with positioning in the past, but he shows some improvement here. His reactionary ability has always been a strength for him, and he proves it again in this instance.
Plenty of credit should go to the Whitecaps here—Rivero's original ball that started the counter-attack, Manneh's speed and smart passing, Aird's through-ball, Kudo's run—but a very, very bad mistake by Anibaba was the real reason for this chance. It easily could have resulted in a goal, which would have given Vancouver a crucial early lead at home and damaged the Dynamo's chances at a road point considerably.
It was a well-executed counter by VWFC, but the story here—at least from Houston's prospective—is another bad defensive blunder.