We've all established that the Houston Dynamo should have beaten the Seattle Sounders last week, so we will move past that. Instead, we'll look ahead to Friday's matchup with the LA Galaxy, and how the Dynamo can get the full three points.
Here are three keys to victory for Houston:
1. Attack Gerrard
Steven Gerrard is expected to start against Houston, according to LAGalaxy.com's Adam Serrano, after missing the previous two matches with a left calf injury.
He has always been a weak spot defensively for the Galaxy—and, to be honest, hasn't produced a whole lot offensively either—but they did a good job of acquiring midfielder destroyer Nigel de Jong in the offseason (unfortunately he has become a bit too aggressive, laying the most dangerous tackle of the season on Portland's Darlington Nagbe last week) to partner with Gerrard and do the dirty work in the midfield.
The Dutch-international has done well in that spot, so LA haven't been too affected by the Englishman's defensive deficiencies. But de Jong's smashing of Nagbe last week earned him a suspension, as manager Bruce Arena told Serrano:
"He will not be available for the game against Houston," Arena said. "The suspension has not been determined yet, but we know it's at least one game."
That means the Galaxy's already-overmatched two-man midfield will be forced to play without a true number-six, thus unloading more defensive work on Gerrard. The 35-year old isn't fit enough to handle the extra workload, meaning the Dynamo could end up with offensive opportunities when going at him one-on-one. Cristian Maidana, Will Bruin and either Ricardo Clark or Alex—whoever happens to be pushing forward at the moment—have to take advantage of the Liverpool legend's defensive misgivings.
2. Keep an eye on Zardes
Gyasi Zardes's best position has been debated plenty over the recent years—according to Jurgen Klinsmann, it's on the wing; according to almost everyone else, it's up top—but he was forced to play out on the wing for much of the second half of last year, as Arena wanted midseason acquisition Giovani dos Santos and fellow forward Robbie Keane to partner at striker. But that's turned out to be an unsuccessful tactic for a variety of reasons, necessitating a switch.
With injuries to both dos Santos and Keane this season—the Mexican has since returned, while Keane remains sidelined—the issue has not been solved just yet. But due to the injuries, we have seen Zardes get opportunities at forward, and we've learned that he can be a viable threat in the box.
The US-international—a consistent starter for Klinsmann—has two goals this season and seven shots on target through five games thanks to his opportunistic and backline-breaking approach in the box. He is always moving, making runs through the channels to find open spaces on crosses and set pieces, and frustrates center-backs with his energy and pure athleticism. His hold-up play can be questionable at times, but he is always a nuisance for opposing defenses.
Zardes is a hassle to mark. The Dynamo had issues with marking last week; they can't repeat that and let him run free in the box, or they will allow goals early and often.
The Dynamo can't afford to give away more available points this week. Playing at home against a short-handed LA Galaxy side should be the right tonic for this team to get back on track and start picking up three points more consistently. They need to pressure early—like they did against Seattle—and find a way to get a lead, and then keep that lead by continuing to high-press.
It's their strength, and it's something that will get them plenty of goals. They have to press throughout the entire field, not just the attackers, and the backline has to do their part and keep counters from flowing for the Galaxy, or the system will not work. There's a lot of variables and risks that go along with this tactic, but when done right, it works. The Dynamo showed that they can make it work last week.
The great Vince Lombardi once said, "The best defense is a great offense." That should be the motto for Houston.