It’s the preseason so there’s still time for experimentation by new Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera, time for players to positions, and to assess competition. That being said, the MLS kicks off at the end of next week so the pieces need to begin falling into place. Fortunately for the Houston Dynamo, that appears to be the case as the quick rebuild since last season looks largely successful this preseason with players like Erick Torres having a bit of a renaissance following his dreadful start to his early Dynamo career.
Last match the Dynamo were able to beat the other team from New York in preseason competition as they bested the 10-men NYCFC 3-1. This time they’ll look to topple the New York Red Bulls and continue their undefeated run in the Desert Diamond Cup. We spoke with Austin Fido of Once a Metro in order to gain insight about his club, how they’ve looked this preseason, and what we can expect from this match.
Dynamo Theory: The New York Red Bulls finished 3rd in 2016, but fell in the Conference Semifinals to the Montreal Impact in the playoffs. What’s the goal this season and how has management utilized the offseason to get to that goal?
Once a Metro: The same goal we have every year, Pinky: try to take over...actually, that's Papa Red Bull's goal. We will charge hard for MLS Cup. And if we pick up another trophy along the way - so much the better.
The plan to meet that goal is basically the same as it ever was: we'll stay true to the RB Global Soccer system, which means shifting to a 4-2-2-2 to be a little truer; the club has doubled down on its current fascination with youth and the Academy - all the new signings are young or from our pipeline, or both; and though some of the subtractions are very significant, the team's basic philosophy seems to be that anyone nearing 30 is just keeping a seat warm for a younger guy coming through.
So it'll be the same basic plan you've seen from RBNY the last couple of years: play "the Red Bull Way", faith in the kids coming through (except they mean that a lot more than we maybe thought), and a Robles-Kljestan-BWP spine to hold it all together.
Big trade drama notwithstanding, the major event of the off-season has been the focus on getting the team to play in 4-2-2-2. They tried this last year and had to beat a hasty retreat from it, but it is the Red Bull Way (i.e. Leipzig and Salzburg play it and are pretty good at it) and it seems that is going to be the RBNY way just as soon as they can make it work.
DT: Losing the midfield presence that Dax McCarty brought to the Red Bulls has to be a big blow and the trade was somewhat of a shock (at least when I saw it). How can RBNY fill the void left by his departure?
OaM: There were several RBNY fans who had an inkling Dax might be regarded as a tradeable asset, but the timing and manner of the transaction was surely a surprise to almost everyone who follows the Red Bulls. The decision to drop the captain surely wasn't taken lightly, but I think we all wish it was taken with less of what seemed a callous disregard for the fact that the captain is a human being and not just an abstract collection of soccer skills occupying a roster spot.
The club's line is basically it was time for Dax to move on because there are two players (at least) ready to take his place in the lineup. Sean Davis is younger than Dax; Tyler Adams is a teenager: both should see an increased role with the first team this year (not hard in Adams' case - he played 45 minutes in MLS last year). So the void is filled, in RBNY's estimation.
How much you agree with the club, as a Red Bull fan, comes down to a number of factors, but I would the fan base can agree that Davis and Adams are central midfielders who play Dax's position. Whether you think they are ready to replace him, or even capable of doing so, is a different matter. Some will argue the 4-2-2-2 needs a different type of player in the middle than the 4-2-3-1 we relied on before, and Davis or Adams is a more obvious step in that direction than Dax. Some might disagree, or suggest he didn't need to be traded for the others to be rotated into more minutes and the chance to unseat the captain on merit. But the die is cast: Dax is gone, and he'll be replaced by Davis primarily, with Adams pushing to make his claim this season too.
DT: Who are some players to keep an eye on in this preseason match?
OaM: None of the above. Davis is with the first team and will play in CONCACAF Champions League while a squad of reserves and trialists plays Houston. Adams is on USA U-20 international duty, though he might also be badly injured after a heavy knock against Panama a few days ago. The game against the Dynamo is all about the players who will likely comprise RBNY's USL team this season.
Based on its last outing (the same roster played Sporting Kansas City), it looks like Brandon Allen is the captain of this particular team. That might carry over to the USL season. He's a Homegrown forward who scores heavily wherever he goes: RBNY Academy, Georgetown, NYRB II. I believe he is still the all-time leading scorer for his high school and college, and he set the scoring record for the II team last year. He's not a player who strikes you as an elite scoring threat at first, second, or third glance - but goals are his game and he has the records to prove it. He's one of the few MLS-contracted players on the RBNY Desert Diamond Cup roster, and the step to the first team is the one he wants to take next. Feels like he needs another year in USL at least, but he played seven first-team minutes last year and had the ball in the net in that cameo - the goal was waved off, but if he can make the next one stick, he might be on his way. Every chance he gets against MLS opposition - even in preseason - is, I'm guessing, a challenge he wants.
Arun Basuljevic will play a deep-lying midfield role (most likely), and the Homegrown rookie is very highly rated by RBNY. He's under no pressure this season - just learn the system and establish a position of choice - when he's expected to be mostly playing in USL. But the next time RBNY unexpectedly punts a star midfielder off the team for GAM, it's probably because Basuljevic has fulfilled his potential.
Personally, I'm interested in Hassan Ndam, a teenage center back RBNY signed out of high school after scouting him since (at least) 2015. He should be paired with Tim Schmoll, a college graduate in his second year as a pro. Comparing their relative ability, awareness, and confidence is an interesting exercise. But I'd be remiss not to mention Zeiko Lewis. He is a versatile attacker, but might play as the second striker to start. He famously told most of MLS he'd cause the clubs that passed on him to regret letting him fall low enough in the Draft that RBNY was able to scoop him up. No slight on RBNY intended or felt: Jesse Marsch loves a player with a chip on his shoulder. Zeiko has chips to spare.
For my answers to Austin’s excellent questions, check them out at Once a Metro!