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Three keys for the Dynamo against the Red Bulls

How the Dynamo can navigate the Red Bulls’ press.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Portland Timbers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Through three games, the Dynamo have two wins and a loss, scoring seven goals and giving up six. Erick Torres and Romell Quioto have three goals each, Alberth Elis has one, and Alex is tied for the league lead with three assists.

With the additions of Elis and Quioto and the rebirth of Torres, they’ve learned to score consistently without giving up tons of goals at the same time, and that is what makes this year’s high-flying start different from last year’s. Whether the results of sustainable or not is yet to seen, but Wilmer Cabrera is a better manager than Owen Coyle and Wade Barrett, so he won’t overcompensate and start settling for 0-0 draws every week.

This is a changed team. Clearly, they’re better than they were last year, and I can tell you right now, you won’t see them in last place again.

But they will face their first significant challenge of the year this month as Quioto was ruled out for two to four weeks following a dislocated left shoulder injury suffered while on international duty with Honduras. He was a foundation of their quick-strike counter-attack, and he has been a massive factor in the Dynamo’s early season goal-scoring prowess.

Mauro Manotas seems to be the most likely replacement, although nothing is certain. Vicente Sanchez and Andrew Wenger could also get a shot at the position should Cabrera see fit.

Their first shot at playing without Quioto comes at home on Saturday against the New York Red Bulls. Here’s what they’ll have to do to win:

1. Don’t give them anything in the final third

You may have heard about the Red Bulls’ ability to constantly press opponents and take them off the ball. Jesse Marsch has a very organized pressing system assembled that utilizes the entire team (yes, including the goalkeeper) and won’t give the opposing team any time to lift their head. Their 4-2-2-2 only increases the intensity, as it allows for two dedicated forwards and two wingers who are free to fill any needed space. Central midfielders are never allowed to receive the ball in midfield without immediately facing pressure on all sides.

The obvious way to limit the effectiveness of it is to avoid turnovers in the defensive half. They will have to be a bit more careful with some of their passing and take less touches, but the major key will be to prevent the Red Bulls from finding time and space higher up the field.

Looking at some of the basic possession statistics, you see that New York possess the ball more than most MLS teams. This isn’t because they like to play tiki-taka deep in their own half and build from the back like NYCFC or the Columbus Crew; it’s because a direct result of their focus on pressing is that they devote a lot of players forward, and they keep the ball a lot closer to the goal.

Most of their major scoring chances come from extended bouts of possession in their attacking third. They poke and prod teams for so long that eventually, a tiny gap opens and they take advantage with a perfect through-ball from Sacha Kljestan or a deadly cross from the flanks. It takes a toll on teams, and it’s why they are always in contention for the Supporters’ Shield.

Here’s an example from their game last week against Real Salt Lake. Think this, but with Kljestan:

The key, then, for the Dynamo is to condense the field as much as possible, and to get at least one winger back to cover the flanks. Avoiding opportunities for the Red Bulls centrally is especially crucial, because Bradley Wright-Phillips doesn’t usually miss very many chances.

Making sure that RBNY are unable to make things happen down the wing could make or break the Dynamo, because if they find success in those areas, it makes it easier for chances centrally to arise. Wenger, who is a great defender for a winger, noted that the counter-attacking prowess of the Dynamo outweighs the impact of increased room on the flank for opponents.

“To be successful offensively, the coaching staff has implemented a system where (chances for the opposition) will happen at times, but being cognizant of not letting it become sustained for too long and get our team pushed too far back (is important). So that’s kind of been the message from the coaching staff now for the last two weeks.”

2. Get Manotas going from the wing

It surprised me when I heard that Mauro Manotas would be Quioto’s likely replacement on the wing. Having done a fairly extensive scouting report of him, I didn’t see many characteristics of a winger in him.

But the coaching staff and the players seem to have confidence in him playing the position, so it seems like he will get a chance to start.

He would rather get in the box and help to create space than take players on 1v1 or be any sort of a playmaker, which isn’t usual for a winger. Expect to see him become more of a target winger, preferring to hunt for goals in the box and cut in centrally. Clearly, he’s pretty good at it.

3. Navigate the press

The attacking element of defeating the Red Bulls is somehow getting around the press, and efficiently moving the ball from back to front, whether that means hitting the ball over the top or playing the ball on the ground.

They won’t have any time to take touches in any area of the field, as Torres pointed out through a translator. “The Red Bulls is a team that presses a lot in small areas of the field and that is something we have studied in video sessions this week. We will continue to press the same way.”

Any little mistake could be costly, as the Dynamo showed Zack Steffen and the Columbus Crew a few weeks ago. Knowing the passing angles and being prepared for how the Red Bulls will be positioned in their press will be crucial.