At the current moment, it's hard to know how the Houston Dynamo will line up at Rio Tinto Stadium when they face Real Salt Lake on Saturday night. After the 4-1-4-1 formation's debut last week was cut short by an early red card, Owen Coyle doesn't have much information to work with when deciding whether it should be continued, although it looked serviceable in the 20 minutes it provided. It seems unlikely he will go back to the 4-2-3-1, but it's hard to know.
In short, I have as much of a clue as you do on who will get the starting nod—especially with Alex suspended—so with that in mind, here are three keys for the Dynamo against RSL:
1. 1v1 defending
Real Salt Lake are very skillful team. With players like Joao Plata, Juan Manuel Martinez, Jordan Allen, Javier Morales and others, they often create chances by carving up opposing defenders on the dribble.
Plata, arguably the best player in early season MLS, was out injured in their 5-2 loss to the LA Galaxy last week, and it's possible his absence played a part in the blowout defeat. Although he may not be in the lineup against the Dynamo—the Salt Lake Tribune reported that he missed training on Wednesday—there's a crop of others who can cause similar amounts of damage to opponents' ankles.
Morales is a veteran creator from midfield who, when given the time and space, can run forward and pick apart a backline with expertise and incisiveness. He's a guy who needs constant attention from the midfielders, and the Dynamo's backline—particularly the center-backs—have to be able to neutralize the impact of his through-balls.
Forward Yura Movsisyan is often on the receiving end of those passes, and when he gets support from the wingers and other midfielders, it overloads the defense and creates chances like this:
Morales brings a serious threat to the organization and marking system of backlines, but there's perhaps no bigger concern than the skill of players like Allen, who beat defenders 1-v-1 and spark a speedy rush.
Everybody in the Dynamo starting XI has to be wary of the ability of those attackers, and make sure they don't get beat too often. Step back, let them make the moves, and make sure not to get caught stepping in too early. Always have a second defender ready to help if needed, and try not to get booked.
It's tough, but it's a necessity for Houston. Easier said than done, of course.
2. Attack Beckerman
Kyle Beckerman has been one of the best defensive midfielders in the US national team pool and in MLS for years. His recognition, tactical awareness and ability to play from the back are all valuable qualities for the position, and often make up for any athletic deficiencies, but as he grows older—he turned 34 just last week—more teams are able to use speed and creativity to break through the central channel.
It has shown on the international level and, at times, domestically. Attackers have used combination play and 1-v-1 skills to beat Beckerman and it has worked, but the most effective way is to get on the counter and use pure pace to find holes. He has never been the fastest player, and now with his advancing age, it is becoming easier and easier to get past.
He commits fouls in these situations—he actually has the most fouls in MLS history—and he doesn't have a partner in defensive midfield, so the Dynamo could find space in certain areas on the counter.
This is one definite way to have opportunities on goal.
3. No bunkering
Last week's game produced almost nothing in terms of chances on goal after the 20th-minute due to the red card, and the result was a disappointing 1-0 loss to Columbus Crew SC. The Dynamo decided not to have an offense for the last 70 minutes or so, not a great idea when chasing a goal.
That 4-1-4-1 formation they used at the start of that match could very well be used again. Owen Coyle has to make sure his team doesn't sit too deep and play like they did last week, because that formation—especially with the personnel—was built for bunkering. They played good defense in Columbus, but it came at the expense of possible points.
They must resist the urge to do it again in Utah.
Real Salt Lake aren't a team to bunker against. They aren't crossers of the ball, they don't rely on a creative number-ten, and there isn't a center-forward demanding specific attention; rather, they use skillful dribbling from cutting wingers and the occasional threatening ball around the box to break apart a defense. Needless to say, this isn't a team that would succumb to a packed-in defense.