The Dynamo have experienced a few ups and downs the past week by following up a disastrous come-from-ahead loss to the Portland Timbers last Sunday with a mid-week triumph over rivals Sporting Kansas City in the US Open Cup. Finishing up a two game home stand the Dynamo need a strong performance and points on the table to keep their MLS playoff hopes alive. Their opponents, the Philadelphia Union, currently sit atop the table in the Eastern Conference after a very strong first half of the season.
Philly has just come off a great stretch of play, going undefeated in nine games from April 23rd through June 18th. Since the 18th though they have gone 2 - 2 including a US Open Cup win over NYRB. Coinciding with that drop was the sudden departure of Vincent Nogueira, a box-to-box midfielder in the No. 8 position, due to undisclosed health reasons in mid June. Seems like the team is missing the playmaker in the middle. Not to say that the Union will crumble, however, as they’ve had other players step up in big ways. To put it plainly attacking midfielder Roland Alberg has been straight crushing it. In his first start since April, Alberg put up a hat trick against Chicago on June 22nd. In the last three games he has five goals. His shot accuracy is 55%, which is best on the team for anyone with more than 20 attempts. So ahh, look out. The problem for Philly clearly hasn’t been offense, as Chris Pontius and CJ Sapong have also been sending a ton of balls towards the net, but rather defense. It seems that the loss of Nogueira is hitting the team where it counts. In each of the three MLS matches post-Nogueira the club has allowed three goals. Andre Blake is struggling in goal but doesn't seem to be getting much help from his defenders as the shots keep coming. Definitely something to be worried about there.
Fortunately for the Dynamo through the recent ups and downs the attack is continuing to work. Unlike the rocky start to the season the team has continued to score goals since Wade Barrett took command, which is likely due to Barrett’s switch to the 4-1-4-1 formation. Also needing credit is the play of Collen Warner whose defensive play has taken pressure off Ricardo Clark and the other midfielders and allowed them to play higher up the pitch. Unfortunately in the loss at Portland, the Timbers made halftime adjustments to keep Warner away from their playmakers and exposed weaknesses in the defense yet again. Barrett made changes in the USOC win vs. SKC where the defense mostly held tight, but we’ll see what the lineup is with the return to MLS play. Will Bruin was finally able to end his scoring drought and has been a much bigger presence on the field lately, again probably due to the formation and personnel changes, and this time the key player is Boniek Garcia. Boniek has really stepped up the quality of his play lately and is distributing the ball very well, getting credit for assists on both goals in Portland. But missing from the equation has been Giles Barnes who has missed two games since his return from the Copa America. Reports are saying he’s got a Achilles issue acting up again which has caused him to miss playing time in the past. The team has, for the most part, played well in his absence and will need to continue doing so against the Union if they expect to get a win.
The Dynamo seem to have chances in each game they play but can’t figure out a way to seal a win. This is certainly an improvement over the early part of the season and points to the team as a whole elevating their level of play. But still they haven’t had much to show for it yet and likely need to reach a little deeper to get the extra something they need. Whatever that is, it’s getting close to do or die time if they have any hopes of a playoff appearance. A win at home against the eastern conference leaders would be a great statement win and a huge momentum boost as we dive into the second half of the MLS season.