The Houston Dynamo defeated the San Jose Earthquakes by a score of 2-1 late Friday night. There are a few noteworthy things about that: The Dynamo won on the road for the first time in 21 games; this was the first MLS match involving the Dynamo that had more than two goals scored in it since June 26th; and a loss in this game prevented San Jose from jumping into a playoff berth, and they now will hope for a Sounders loss this weekend.
The Dynamo, to put it simply, got the first of many opportunities to play spoiler on Friday, and they took advantage of it. They might as well ruin other team's parties, because they won't have one of their own this season.
1. Parking the bus
Houston are not a possession-based team. In fact, they're not even an attacking-based team. They don't spend much time trying to attack; they instead keep a deeper defensive line, compact the middle of the field, and force the opposition to beat them on the wing with crosses. As we found out at Avaya Stadium, they do that even more when they are protecting a lead. They actually do a fairly good job of it.
But sometimes, they let the opponent have the ball a little too much, and allow them to get one too many attacks on goal. When that happens, the other team will get lucky (a deflection, a mistake, a rebound, whatever it may be) and they will carve out a goal from nowhere. That's exactly what happened on Victor Bernardez's goal:
10 of the 11 Dynamo players are in or near the box during that goal, and nine of them are in close proximity of the six-yard box. The Quakes finally got a fortunate bounce on one of their many balls into the box, with Bernardez freeing himself and smashing the ball into the top corner. You can say the play should have been stopped earlier because of a foul by Amarikwa, and you can say it was a defensive mistake by the Dynamo to let the Honduran center back get that wide open, but this is just a product of too many chances for San Jose.
These are struggles that the Dynamo will face when they park the bus that much. People have said the defense looked shaky at certain moments, and that isn't completely untrue, but when a team sits that deep for that long, it's bound to look a little wobbly at times.
Mauro Manotas started again, and he continued to struggle to find touches. He had 30 touches in his 63 minutes — lowest of any starter — and he has the lowest touch percentage of any Dynamo player outside of David Rocha and Rob Lovejoy this season, with just 2.2%.
This is surely a struggle of his — he has to do a better job of finding pockets of space in which to receive the ball — but there's no question that the Dynamo midfield has to a better job of creating penetration through the central channels and getting the ball to him in the first place. The addition of Cristian Maidana to the starting lineup did slightly improve that, but their inability to keep simple possession in advanced areas of the field holds them back.
The Dynamo don't have enough players who can make consistent, ambitious forward passes from the midfield. Collen Warner is a good No. 6, but he isn't exactly a top-tier distributor. Alex is a ball-winner first and foremost, and Boniek Garcia won't be creating many chances from methods other than crossing. While Ricardo Clark is obviously a serviceable passer, he doesn't provide much in terms of chance-creation.
In the future, the Dynamo should acquire more players who can push forward and find Manotas in higher positions. Maidana isn't good enough to do it by himself.
Alex, one of the most versatile players on the Dynamo's roster alongside Boniek, was pushed out to the wing against the Quakes. He played reasonably well — no disasters or anything — but it's pretty clear that he is better and more valuable to Houston as a central midfielder.
The Brazilian's best asset is his ability to halt opposing attacks by winning the ball higher up the field. He's been very good at playing box-to-box, covering space, and adding extra defensive cover for Warner. But at winger, he struggled to track the necessary runs and to mark the overlapping full back (see: 22nd-minute; I can't get the video because MLS Live is blacked out).
He is a serviceable winger, and he can play left back in an emergency. But I think he's considerably better in the center, where he's been one of the Dynamo's best players this season.