MLS is officially back from the Copa America break. With players fresh and well-rested after the two-week layoff, I thought we would see high-scoring, energetic games contested by teams desperate for a good start to the second half of the season; it was a reasonable assumption, considering the amount of goals we saw in week one.
But it was just the opposite. We saw just 20 goals combined between Saturday's eight matches, an average of 2.5 per game. Argentina, Chile, and Venezuela scored 12 total from the two Copa America quarterfinal matches that night, for comparison. There were two scoreless draws as well; including one particularly uneventful one in Houston.
Here are some thoughts on that 0-0 result:
1. Left wing ideas
The Houston Dynamo and D.C. United combined to put just seven shots on target — three of those failed to threaten the goalkeeper at all — and only 50% of the total passes made between the two teams went forward. It wasn't until the final minute of the match that either club managed to do something of substance in attack.
Needless to say, this wasn't exactly the most exciting game of the season.
The Dynamo were, however, the better team for much of the match. They had the longer, more meaningful stretches of possession, they did the most in attack by far, and they won the midfield battle without much trouble. Sure, United were missing a number of key players, but Wade Barrett's side(!) was more tactically cohesive and played with more purpose than they ever did under Owen Coyle, and that's a testament to lineup continuity. Barrett should stick with the 4-1-4-1 and should use similar personnel indefinitely, because it worked very well against D.C. The goals will come, most likely from the left side of the field.
The trio of DaMarcus Beasley, Boniek Garcia and Cristian Maidana all had valid arguments for Man of the Match thanks to their ability to link up and put on pressure down that left wing. When right back Taylor Kemp would push up the field and vacate the space next to center back Kofi Opare — which happened a lot — Beasley would overlap the winger Maidana and Garcia would step over from center midfield to support them, creating sequences like this:
If someone like Kei Kamara or Cyle Larin or even Gyasi Zardes was in the box to receive the balls sent in by those three players, you can guarantee the Dynamo would be scoring a lot more goals.
The Maidana-as-a-winger experiment is turning up promising results, even though his delivery was dreadful all night. With someone like Boniek next to him, Barrett can employ a system that would solve a whole lot of problems.
Here's how it would work: The 4-1-4-1 formation would stay the same, with Maidana out wide and Boniek (or Alex Lima; him and Garcia are similar players) in center midfield. When the Dynamo get possession of the ball, Maidana would drift towards the middle and receive the ball in places a natural No. 10 would receive the ball: In and around the box. Garcia, meanwhile, would go out wide along with an overlapping Beasley to overload the opposing right back and either open up space centrally or act as another option for Maidana to hit with one of his deadly through-balls.
After losing possession, Maidana would go back to the wing while Garcia would take his place as a midfielder. Boniek would stay closer to the Argentine so as to offset his defensive weaknesses. The shape would look something like this:
Beasley is a good enough and smart enough defender to support Maidana; just look at what he did to Luciano Acosta. This is something they tried at different times against United, and it was effective, although they had trouble hitting that final ball. It will be interesting to see if they employ it next week against Portland, who could be without starting right back Alvas Powell.
2. It's time to start Manotas
For too long, the Dynamo have lacked a true goal-scorer. It's been a while since they've had an elite forward who can consistently pick out goals and become a reliable player around the box. Whether it's a second forward like Chris Wondolowski or Clint Dempsey, a big number-nine who can win aerial duels and hold-up play like Kamara or Fanendo Adi, or a speedy channel-runner like Bobby Wood or Giovani dos Santos, the Dynamo have lacked in the individual goal-scoring category for a long time. And no, the forever-inconsistent Will Bruin does not count.
Well, I think they've finally found someone who can become an all-around striker and goalscorer. I think you know who I'm about to say: Mauro Manotas.
The 20-year old Colombian could very well be the answer to that pressing question. Manotas is a tall, pacey, smart forward who opens up the defense by making diagonal cutting runs. He's comparable to Wood in that he is a good passer and is always challenging the opposing backline with those crucial runs. Although he hasn't received many minutes in MLS, he has played over 300 minutes with RGVFC — scoring two goals — and got the start in Wednesday's Open Cup match.
He scored for the Dynamo against San Antonio FC, and that goal was the essence of why he should be starting in MLS:
Manotas does exactly what Bruin doesn't do: He drops deep to help in possession, receives a pass with his back to goal, and breaks through the defense with skillful dribbling. He finishes with precision and accuracy, also something Bruin does not do. Manotas is very good at creating his own chances and not getting stuck on an island up top.
Meanwhile, here's Bruin's passing chart from the D.C. United match:
Bruin completed nine passes in almost 80 minutes of action. That's not a lot of passes.
Manotas doesn't need a lot of service to score goals. He will create his own chances, and that's why he should be starting over Bruin.
The Dynamo desperately need all the points they can get. A scoreless home draw against a shorthanded Eastern Conference opponent is not a good result in the long run, and more results like that will take whatever semblance of playoff contention they have left away.
But there was plenty of good to be taken. Most players played as well as they have all season — maybe with the exception of Bruin and Ricardo Clark — and the team as a whole appeared to be in tune with each other. They making good runs, they stayed organized and compact, and they were stout defensively. We haven't seen that very much this season.
Credit goes to Barrett, who has put out a good lineup and kept it there. He needs to keep doing that, or else the Dynamo will end up looking like Mexico.