The Houston Dynamo have played four games and scored 11 goals. Through their first three games, in which they scored seven times, only once did they score in the second half, and they were outscored 5-1 in the second 45. So when the Dynamo went into the second half with their familiar 2-1 lead, fans were understandably weary about getting too hopeful, especially against a team like the Red Bulls.
But instead of buckling down deep in their own half and trying to kill off the game by waiting out the opponent, they were proactive and pragmatic while playing with the lead, and it helped them outscore the Red Bulls in the second half for the first time all season.
4-1 became the final score at BBVA Compass Stadium, with Erick Torres scoring a hat trick. It showed that the Dynamo are a much better team up and down the roster than they were last year, and that Wilmer Cabrera is capable of making smart reactionary adjustments both in pre-game preparation and on the fly.
It was, for the first time, a complete game from the Dynamo. While it may seem like a simple observation — “they’re not as good in the second half as they are in the first” — it actually holds true, and is symbolic of other more complicated tactical adjustments they had to make, and did.
DaMarcus Beasley, who started the game on the bench following international duty with the US, mentioned that after the game.
“We haven’t had a complete game (this year), and I think today was a little bit better than we had in the last three games,” said the defender. “And we actually came out in the second half and still pressured the ball and made sure that we weren’t going to give up any more goals. So I think that was very nice to see.”
The Dynamo did indeed look to break out of their shell more consistently later in the game, and afforded the Red Bulls little time to set up runners in the channels. A major problem against Portland two weeks ago was that the Timbers were able to hang around the final third and poke the backline until they got a break, and they took advantage of their opportunities with three second half goals. There was none of that for Jesse Marsch’s side.
That was the ultimate difference, and it could prove to be a turning point in the Dynamo’s early season campaign. Here are some other thoughts from the action:
1. Manotas the winger
Romell Quioto’s injury gave Mauro Manotas the opportunity to nab a starting spot, at least for the next four to six weeks. There were questions about Manotas’s ability to play wide, considering he had always played as a lone center forward as a professional. He mostly assuaged those concerns against the Red Bulls.
Playing very wide in the Dynamo’s 4-3-3, he kept the same positioning as Quioto, but proved that while his playing style is significantly different, he can be just as effective. Manotas acted as a target winger or sometimes even a wide second striker next to Cubo Torres, allowing Alex more space to push forward from midfield to combine with Manotas and Torres.
These two are natural strikers, and when given the opportunity, they play like it. Manotas drew the penalty following a brilliant run and slip pass from Torres:
They were combining perfectly all match, and with a player like Alex behind them to both add to the attack and clean up their mistakes, it allows them to overwhelm opposing backlines.
It also helps to have Manotas playing like he wants a job.
“Excellent. Mauro was excellent today,” Cabrera said when asked about his performance after the game. “Everyone thinks that Mauro can only play as a center forward, and he was a very good winger today. He creates some very good options, he went on the left, he went on the right, he worked well, he held the ball, he had good crosses, he made good diagonals.”
He was indeed very, very good, even though he wasn’t able to get on the scoresheet. Adding another true goal-scorer next to Torres helps both to pull players away from the middle and take some of the load off of Cubo, who obviously won’t score hat tricks every week. And it’s amazing to be saying this about a player who was replacing Quioto, who is no slouch in the goal scoring department. This attack is scarier than anyone realized.
“What we have is different forwards, and what I said to them was I don’t expect that Mauro Manotas does what Alberth Elis does, because it’s impossible, and it would be bad for Mauro to try to do that,” Cabrera said. “Mauro Manotas needs to play as Mauro Manotas.”
“Our forwards, they like to score, and they’re dangerous, and they are going to try to do that. And if they try to do that, it’s going to be good for the team.”
Cabrera let Manotas play like Manotas, and it paid off. It sometimes even changed their shape into something a tilted 4-4-2, with the attack revolving around the side that Torres and Manotas were combining and Wenger sitting slightly deeper on the opposite side. This is not to say that they have changed formations or that they should change formations (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it), but that’s how they looked at some points while they were attacking.
With less reliance on getting players isolated wide on the touchline, it allowed the wingers to pinch in more defensively, and they tracked back much more. This was huge for their defensive shape, and it was one of the big reasons why they were able to cut off the circulation of New York’s attack.
Here’s another obvious-yet-important storyline for you: the backups showed up for the Dynamo, and it gives them hope that they will be able to keep grabbing points in this long and grueling MLS season.
The most notable of them was Manotas, but also performing well was left back Dylan Remick, who filled in for Beasley. He scored a nice goal off a corner (don’t zone mark, Red Bulls) and was quietly solid all night along the backline. It was a reassuring performance from a player who will likely get plenty of time on the field this season given Beasley’s age and possible future international appearances.
“Great game, great game,” Beasley commented on Remick’s performance. “He’s a great young talent, he’s very honest as a defender, he’s smart, he keeps the ball. He’s a good player, and we’re going to definitely rely on him a lot. Obviously scoring his first ever goal was a big plus for him, and I was the first one to congratulate him.”
Jalil Anibaba started at center back alongside Adolfo Machado, and while his partner was a bit shaky at times, Anibaba got along without too many problems. Wenger was important as well, and added a defensive element from the wing that we haven’t seen yet this year.
“The depth of the team has been positive,” Cabrera said. “We see different players, but our mentality, our intensity, and our tactics are not going to change.”
3. Home wins
That’s three home games, three home wins for the Dynamo this season. It’s one thing to dominate in the comforts of BBVA, but it’s another thing to travel elsewhere and grind out points on the road. They were unable to do that in Portland, but they’ll get to try again in New England next week.
They showed flashes of being able to hold on the road. Not affording the opposition time in the final third and closing down players deeper in midfield and on the flanks was crucial against the Red Bulls, and will be important when playing teams away from home.