The Houston Dynamo are back and are flying after a 2-1 victory over last season’s MLS Cup winners, the Seattle Sounders. Last week they played one of their best halves of soccer in recent memory, though they could only finish twice despite a few other quality chances. The second half of that game is rather forgettable to Dynamo fans as Seattle had looked to claw its way back into the game by scoring a goal, but the home team was able to come up with the win. The same was not true of Columbus Crew SC’s home opener last week against the Chicago Fire. Columbus had managed to score first, but the Fire got back into the game via David Accam who played spoiler to Crew fans as the two sides managed to draw after 90 minutes.
In our preview of the match we talked about the chemistry developing among our top attacking players and what we can expect from Crew SC, but we wanted an insider’s perspective so we spoke with Patrick Murphy of Massive Report to get a handle on our opponents later this evening.
Dynamo Theory: Crew SC are now a full season removed from their MLS Cup run which saw them fall in the final to the Portland Timbers. Last season was far from a MLS Cup runner-ups type season as they finished with the 3rd worst record in the league. What have Crew SC done this offseason to ensure that Gregg Berhalter’s men can have a go at the playoffs?
Massive Report: The most apparent answer is they've put a major focus on defense. Columbus gave up 58 goals last year, tied for second-worst in the league, which just can't happen if you want to make the playoffs (unless you're NYCFC).
This offseason, the Black & Gold added six defenders, most notably Jonathan Mensah who is one of the team's Designated Players. He missed most of preseason while on duty with the Ghana national team, so he is still adjusting and gelling with his new teammates. Jonathan started alongside Nicolai Næss at center back in the opening game and played well, but talked after the game about doing better.
Jukka Raitala also made his debut at left back against the Fire. Like Crew SC wing backs under Berhalter, he's much more of an attacking threat, but looked good defensively in the preseason.
The other guys, especially veteran Josh Williams who is in his seconds stint with the club, are expected to add depth and push the starters throughout the season.
Week one, the team looked improved defensively, but it's hard to know how good Chicago's attack will be this year. If the club is better keeping the ball out of the net, it will go a long way towards a turnaround season.
DT: The Crew’s attacking group of Ola Kamara, Federico Higuain, Ethan Finlay, and Justin Meram are not one to take lightly. How can the Dynamo look to slow down these attackers and which one should they invest more of their defensive efforts to cover?
MR: It's certainly hard to slow down this Crew SC attack. I think the best attempt, but likely also the most difficult, is to limit Higuain's time on the ball, especially in the attacking third. Last year, when he missed multiple games with an injury, the offense was certainly not as potent. Even last week against the Fire where he didn't have his best game, things weren't as sharp as normal.
Other than that, keeping Kamara away from goal is always a good bet to keep Columbus off the score sheet. He was one of the best in MLS in goals per minutes last season, and that's without Higuain in the lineup most of the time. He's very dangerous and the Black & Gold do a good job of getting him chances in front of goal.
Ultimately, the best way to slow down the attack is to not let these guys get involved in the game. Houston did a good job pressing Seattle early in the opening game and that should be a similar tactic this week. Chicago did that in the second half and it caused Crew SC problems building out of the back like they like to do.
DT: Last week the Crew were unfortunate to not get the 3 full points as the ball to goal scorer David Accam was nearly poked out by Harrison Afful. How important is this road game early on for the Crew given the week 1 draw at home?
MR: I don't know if it's that vital in terms of a "must win" or anything like that. Obviously MLS is a long season. With that said, I do think it would be a confidence boost to put in a full 90 minute performance and play well. The players talked after last game about not having the mindset that things will get going, which was something said a lot last year, but rather actually get them going.
I think more important than anything, the Black & Gold just need to play well. For the first 45 minutes against the Fire, the performance looked good but it wasn't sustained. Columbus couldn't get a second goal and then allowed the equalizer in the second half. It was far too familiar to last year, and it would be nice to see the team look more like 2015.
Harrison Afful-Jonathan Mensah-Nicoli Naess-Jukka Raitala
Ethan Finlay-Mohammed Abu-Wil Trapp-Justin Meram
For my answers to Patrick’s questions, check them out at Massive Report!