There's still a long way to go for the Houston Dynamo, but there was noticeable progress shown in their statement 2-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City.
The Dynamo did a lot of things well. Erick Torres was very good at striker, Alex Lima was my MOTM in midfield, Giles Barnes was as lively as ever, and Agus was solid in central defense. They played compact and organized in defense and did well to shut down Sporting KC's talented center midfield. Owen Coyle has to be pleased with the performance.
A lot has to happen before they can be considered challengers for a playoff spot. But with more games like this, they will be in the conversation.
1. A new and improved central midfield
The Dynamo have found the answer in center midfield. And as it turns out, they don't need a pure number-six.
Well, that may not be true. But it is true that Alex—who has never been disciplined enough to be a serviceable holding midfielder—played well enough to make us think they don't need a no. 6. He was all over the place, cutting off attacks with well-timed tackles and an impressive work rate. The Brazilian shut down Benny Feilhaber, playing well in 1v1 situations and making sure not to allow any passes through the defense.
This play was emblematic of Alex's performance all night:
He stays in front of Feilhaber, cuts off his passing angles, and keeps patient until he sees an opportunity to poke the ball away, which he does cleanly. He did these kind of things consistently, and thus allowed Ricardo Clark to push forward into the attack.
Alex was crucial for the Dynamo, and was arguably the main reason why they kept a clean sheet.
2. A multi-dimensional attack
Cristian Maidana was back in the starting lineup on Saturday night. He played well, sending in multiple threatening balls and creating a few chances. But he wasn't the story.
That would be Cubo Torres. The much-maligned striker, making his first start of the season, impressed many with the problems he caused for Sporting's defenders, a high work rate, and an ability to combine with his fellow attackers. Torres was a nuisance for SKC, not only because of his constant high-pressure, but because of the marking issues he posed for his opposition. The Mexican-international was very, very good.
In my opinion, he's earned himself another start. I'm sure many share that thinking.
Torres and Maidana weren't the only offensive players who played a nice game. Giles Barnes scored a goal and constantly sent in good crosses, Andrew Wenger also had a goal and did well to get back on defense, and Will Bruin and Leonel Miranda both were solid in substitute appearances. The reason for the two goals they scored—and the pressure they put on Tim Melia's goal—was all the options they had, and the numbers they so often threw into the box.
Sporting KC's defense had to deal with a lot when the Dynamo got on the attack. Let's examine exactly what they had to contend with, and the options Houston had:
—There was the well-weighted through-ball from Maidana. When given room, the Argentine no. 10 can pick out an incisive pass into the central channel to a runner like Torres or Barnes, and he did try that a couple times.
—Barnes often send in crosses from that left wing, and they were how the Dynamo formulated many of their chances. With the number of players Houston had in the box, those crosses could create second and third opportunities as well.
—Barnes also cut in from the wing, as did Wenger a couple of times. That drags full-backs out of position and opens up holes for overlapping players.
—The Dynamo employed the route 1 strategy a couple times. They hoofed it long and let Torres run after it, forcing defenders to not only deal with balls in the air, but with the speed of the striker.
There were others as well. The Dynamo were consistently dangerous in attack, and combined well all over the final third. If possible, Coyle should put the same personnel on the field in San Jose on Wednesday.
3. Agus impresses
With a congested schedule the rest of this month for the Dynamo, Owen Coyle decided to give Raul Rodriguez a rest and try out a new center-back pairing. Agus and David Horst played together for the first time, and did very well against Sporting's attack.
Dom Dwyer, SKC's big, physical number-nine, hardly had an impact on the game thanks to their pressure and physicality, taking away a large part of the visitors' offense. They were compact, disciplined, and error-free all game, doing a great job of preventing passes behind them. Agus in particular was solid, and he likely earned himself another start on Wednesday.
They likely didn't shield Rodriguez completely out of the starting XI, but they did provide Coyle with another viable pairing in central defense. Another good sign from an overall good game.