What will it mean to finally win on the road?
The Houston Dynamo have had an up and down ride most of this MLS season with more ups than downs overall as we currently sit in 3rd place in the Western Conference. While we’ve been magnificent at home helping us maintain a currently undefeated fortress, we’ve been abysmal away from BBVA Compass Stadium. It’s important to note that thus far in the season, the team has played 5 of its 7 games at home, but in those 2 games away we’ve allowed 6 goals only netting 2 ourselves – both in the game at Portland.
So why is this important? It’s still early in the season and there aren’t exactly a large number of away games to say for certain that our team is lousy on the road. Well, it won’t mean too much in respect to the season as a whole and it isn’t a conference game, but getting that first win – or even point, on the road goes a long way towards building confidence to win in unfriendly environments. Winning on the road isn’t everything, and even very good Dynamo teams have struggled, but it can make a big difference in missing the playoffs or playoff seeding. Every point goes a little bit further in a competitive Western Conference.
Can Dynamo sustain momentum from last week?
Although the Dynamo have struggled on the road, they can look to their form they’ve discovered in their game last week against the San Jose Earthquakes. Last week they put in a very strong 2-0 performance which led to their first clean sheet of the season. The game was far from perfect as the offense relied on a penalty and an error by a goalkeeper to get on the score sheet, but good teams capitalize on mistakes. They’ll need to carry that, along with an ability to build up play either from a counter or through sustained possession, in order to score goals.
I’m less concerned with our team’s ability to score goals. Yes they failed to score on the road against New England, but that was the only game this season we haven’t scored. I’m more worried that we’ll either get a lead and sit in which will invite Toronto FC back into the game or we won’t be able to counter attack effectively and TFC will find a hole in our defense. If they’ve learned from last week’s tactics, there is a way to balance their high octane offense while providing support to their defense.
For just about all of the season Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera has utilized a 4-3-3 which has supplied the offense with plenty of tools and weapons at its disposal as the forwards and many of the midfielders are constantly ready to pounce and begin a counter attack. Within seconds the team can recover a ball on the defensive end and score a goal on the other side. That’s made possible by forwards tracking back less frequently and being ready to receive long passes. What we’ve learned from games is that’s not sustainable for 90 minutes and it often lets teams get back into games because there isn’t much support on the other side of the ball. I’ve criticized Cabrera for not having a Plan B as he stuck to this formation in games we should have been working on protecting the lead.
However, last week we saw Cabrera unveil a new formation – the diamond 4-4-2 (a personal favorite). What this formation allowed Houston to do against the Earthquakes was have the central attacking midfielder be able to push into the forward line, effectively creating a 4-3-3. It also put 4 people in midfield when San Jose had the ball so it supplied the defense with more players than it had before. In terms of personnel, it worked. Alex in the CAM role worked because he’s a gifted attacker that can play as central mid. Juan David Cabezas in the defensive midfield spot provided toughness in central midfield and Eric Alexander at left mid also gave some playmaking and defensive presence on that side of the field.
The biggest question I have is will we continue to use this formation or will we revert back to our old 4-3-3 habit. I think a lot of this depends on the health status of Romell Quioto. He is too good to leave on the bench and designated players Cubo Torres and Alberth Elis are both scoring so they deserve to start as well. This is a good problem to have, but one that can tempt Cabrera into making poor decisions with his lineup in order to get players minutes either as starters or as subs. What I do like though is even if we begin games in the 4-3-3 is that he now has a formation he can easily change to in the 4-4-2.
Toronto FC Form
Toronto FC finished last season as the MLS Cup runners-up and are currently looking to regain some of that form. TFC sits one spot outside of the playoff line at 10 points and is hoping to gain some ground. A team that has Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore is not one to be taken lightly and our midfield and defense will have their hands full. While Toronto has only won a single game at home this year, they are undefeated as they’ve drawn their other two matches at BMO Field. Houston has historically struggled in games in Canada, but they’ve done relatively well in Toronto in recent years winning our last two visits to Toronto although those wins came in 2015 and 2014 respectively and we are a vastly different team since then. The Reds are a good team that haven’t played many games at home and are hungry for points so they should be a good test for us on the road.
Kickoff is at 6:30 Central Time Friday April 28th in Toronto, Canada