The Houston Dynamo hope to bounce back after failing to produce a result on the road last week at the New England Revolution. This week, they’ll return home where they’ve been perfect in 2017 to take on the MLS newcomers, Minnesota United FC. The Loons have struggled this year on the defensive end, but have been able to put the ball in the back of the net.
In our preview of the match we discussed how each side has fared coming into this match, but we wanted an outside perspective so we spoke with Alex Gormley of E Pluribus Loonum to understand the Loons.
Dynamo Theory: As the co-newest team in the league what were the initial expectations for Minnesota United FC fans coming into their inaugural year in Major League Soccer?
E Pluribus Loonum: Great question. Minnesota United fans were extremely excited to see their team finally make the leap from NASL to MLS in 2017. I don't think many people expect the team to make the playoffs, which I think is a fair expectation to come to about the team. They have plenty of solid attacking players but potential issues with the defense were obvious to most prior to the season. With the way that the front office went about things, hiring a manager with experience managing an MLS expansion squad and not signing any designated players, I think the fans will be happy if the team continues to improve throughout the season. As long as the team doesn't get shellacked like they did against Portland, Atlanta, and New England earlier in the year, the fans shouldn't be too upset. The attendance at both home games was been fantastic and it's encouraging to see just how quickly people have latched onto the team.
DT: Currently Minnesota are not the worst team in MLS, but their current number of points put them in last place in the Western Conference (they share the same number of points with Colorado and Vancouver). How does this position line up with expectations and since Minnesota had briefly escaped being in the bottom of the West, how important is this game against Houston?
EPL: I think Minnesota are right about where people expected them to be at this time. Grant Wahl, who is one of the head authorities on all things U.S. soccer, predicted that the team would finish last in the West. I'm not as pessimistic as he is, and I think that being able to get four points from games against Portland, Atlanta, Colorado, New England, Real Salt Lake, and Dallas is nothing to sneeze at for an expansion team. Playing Portland and New England on the road early in the season is a tough ask, and they were able to snatch a win and a draw from RSL and Colorado respectively. They took their lumps and have come out on the other side looking much better than they did in early March. Going forward I'd expect the team to pick up some points, with a home match at Colorado in two weeks looking like a great spot for another potential win.
The game against Houston is somewhat important, if not for the fact that I think it's a winnable game. Houston really struggled against New England last week and I think that Minnesota could be catching the Dynamo at a good time. Houston's been great at home so far this season, no doubt, so it'll be a big test for a team that had a "moral victory" on the road against a talented Dallas squad. Had it not been for Jesse Gonzalez standing on his head, the Loons might have walked away from Dallas with a point. I don't think where they are in the standings matters that much this early in the season but this game definitely has some importance to it seeing that they have a difficult stretch of games coming up at the end of April and into early May where they play San Jose, Sporting KC, Toronto, and then the Galaxy.
DT: Easily one of the biggest problems for Minnesota United has been its defense. Recently Minnesota traded for Colorado’s Sam Cronin and Marc Burch. How will these two help stop one of the league’s top offenses?
EPL: Marc Burch and Sam Cronin are two MLS defensive stalwarts, having started more than 200 games apiece prior to coming to Minnesota. Cronin will be the maestro in the midfield, stringing passes together and putting pressure on Houston's central players much like he did against Dallas. Cronin's presence should continue to help strengthen a back line that is improving every game. He's able to take some of the pressure off the center backs, which is helpful as neither of the Loons two starting center backs had MLS experience prior to this year. The Loons will be counting on Burch to frustrate Houston's wide attackers, and they will need him to carefully pick and choose his spots to go up on the attack. Burch has always been a talented player going forward but at times struggles on the defensive end when tasked with tracking down fast players. His positioning will be key and hopefully, he's able to step up alongside Francisco Calvo and Brent Kallman who have both been solid as of late.
DT: Although the defense has been a problem for Minnesota, the offense has been working pretty well. Who are some players the Dynamo defenders should keep an eye on?
EPL: The Dynamo defenders will definitely have their hands (or feet) full with the attacking trio of Christian Ramirez, Johan Venegas, and Kevin Molino. Ramirez has tallied four goals so far this season, which puts him fifth in the league behind just Erick Torres, Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi, and Josef Martinez. His nickname is "Superman" and he has made the jump from NASL to MLS seamlessly and has shown the ability to play as the team's target man. Johan Venegas normally plays as a central attacking midfielder or second striker, and he's been able to pass the ball at an extremely high level this season. He's the team's main playmaker and his ability to put passes into space is certainly something the Dynamo defenders will be looking for. To round out the trio, we have Kevin Molino, who played under Adrian Heath in Orlando. He came over from Orlando in exchange for $650,000 in allocation money, which is a lot of dough. Molino can do it all... he's shown a great ability to put in a pinpoint pass like we saw in the team's second goal against RSL and he's also extremely tricky with the ball at his feet. In addition to being able to make defender's miss, he has the pace to fly down the flank as well. He's a really well-rounded attacking player.
The lineup remains almost unchanged from their last time out at Dallas but I'm going out on a limb a bit here and predicting that Rasmus Schuller gets the start in the midfield over Collen Warner. Schuller hasn't played much, as of late, and Warner struggled last time out and was substituted before the hour mark.
Predicted Outcome: I think this game is going to be a 2-2 draw. Deric is yet to keep a clean sheet in 2017, and the Minnesota defense is still figuring things out, so I think a draw makes sense.
For my answers to Alex’s excellent questions check them out at the E Pluribus Loonum!