The Wade Barrett era has its first MLS win in it which snapped a 5 game winless streak in league action as they beat the top club in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Union. The Dynamo limited the Union's chances on goal, but it took a free kick in the final minute of stoppage time by Cristian Maidana to put the Dynamo up 1-0 over their visiting opponents.
Tonight the Dynamo will play a team with quite a few things in common as they take on Orlando City SC. Orlando, like the Dynamo, is a club strong at home while abysmal on the road. Also like the Dynamo, Orlando City recently decided to go separate ways with their head coach. Houston will hope to pounce on the opportunity to beat a club that hasn't lost at home, but is certainly beatable in order to earn its first road win of the season.
In our preview of the match we discussed Houston's momentum, but we wanted to know more about our purple clad opponents so we spoke with Michael Citro, Managing Editor at the Mane Land, to gain insight about his club.
Dynamo Theory: Orlando City SC hasn't grown too much in terms of points from its season last year as OCSC finished out its inaugural MLS campaign just 1 spot out of a playoff position which is where it currently sits in the Eastern Conference standings. Arguably the primarily culprit for this is road performances (something Dynamo fans can relate to). What does Orlando City have to do, both at home and on the road, to get results to go their way to see the MLS Cup playoffs?
The Mane Land: The simple answer is to turn draws into wins and losses into draws. The more explanatory answer is that the team must play better defensively. The team has been shut out only once all season but rarely does Orlando City score more than two goals. Two is typically enough to win in the average soccer game, but the club is shipping two in those games when it's scoring two and conceding more in some cases on the road.
If the team could keep two center backs healthy and not suspended long enough for a pairing to form a true partnership, it would go a long way toward stopping the leaks. Also, the fullbacks have not been good enough. They sometimes ball watch or leave too much for their nearest center back partner to do. The central midfielders have been fairly strong all season but when the ball goes past them, it's always an adventure.
DT: The reigning MLS rookie of the year is having another spectacular season with Orlando as he currently sits in 6th place in the Golden Boot race with 8 goals, which is tied with the reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco. What makes this kid so special and how can the Dynamo hope to slow his goal scoring abilities?
ML: Cyle Larin is special because he has a rare combination of size, speed, and strength. He's a tremendously athletic kid who was able to score a lot of goals last year simply on physically out-competing or outrunning defenders for the ball. He's still learning the game in a lot of ways. There is a lot he can learn in terms of guile, hold-up play, bringing his attacking midfielders into plays, etc., but he's starting to do just that. He had no assists a year ago and this year he's able to find teammates in dangerous positions. He knows he doesn't have to take a shot every time he's within 25 yards of goal.
As for stopping him, like most star strikers, the best way is to choke off the service and send multiple defenders at him. He's just too tough for most defenders to stop in one-on-one situations.
DT: Just two clubs in the league have allowed more goals than Orlando City which is something many Dynamo fans can sympathize with after giving up so many goals early into the season. What's the primary reason why things aren't tidy in the back? Not enough support, personnel, tactics?
ML: It's partly the revolving door of center backs I mentioned above. One game you'll see Tommy Redding and Seb Hines. Then it will be Hines and David Mateos. Then Mateos and Redding. Two guys must seize those spots and then form a partnership. Individually all three are talented enough to start in this league.
Another part of it is the fullbacks have not been good enough and are exposing the center backs. Brek Shea is still learning how to play left back and despite his pace, he often seems concerned with getting beaten off the dribble, so he gives attacking players too much space to get quality crosses in and those are difficult to deal with. On the right side, Rafael Ramos, a Portuguese youth international, seems to have regressed in his play. He gets caught ball watching and loses his man. His hamstring injury opened the door for Kevin Alston to get some playing time, and that went well for a while. But even Alston has been prone to getting caught watching the ball and losing his man at the back post when he's weak-side defending. Typically you can get at Orlando up the sides much easier than trying to navigate through defensive midfielders Cristian Higuita, Darwin Ceren and Servando Carrasco.
The final piece of the puzzle is that teams are pounding Orlando on counter attacks off errant passes caused by high pressure. This is especially the case on the road. Teams seem loathe to try much high pressure in the heat and humidity of Orlando, but at Kansas City, Red Bull Arena and Dallas, we've seen turnovers be very costly.
Projected Lineup: This is very difficult to say given the firing of Adrian Heath on Wednesday night. Assistant Bobby Murphy will serve as the game-day coach and I'm really not sure what to expect from him. We do know that Ramos (hamstring) and Kaká (calf) won't be in the lineup.
I'm going to speculate that we'll see something like this (4-2-3-1): Joe Bendik; Luke Boden, Seb Hines, David Mateos, Kevin Alston; Cristian Higuita, Darwin Ceren; Brek Shea, Julio Baptista, Kevin Molino; Cyle Larin.
Predicted Outcome: Prior to the news of Heath's firing, I was predicting a 1-1 draw or possibly a 2-1 Orlando City win. With this midweek gut punch and only one day of true preparation under a new head coach, and without Kaká, I'm going to say 3-0 Houston seems more likely.
For my answers to Michael's excellent questions, check them out at The Mane Land!