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Alex will play big role against the New England Revolution

The Dynamo’s Alex will be a big factor on Saturday when Houston travel to New England.

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

The Dynamo flew past the New York Red Bulls last week on the back of an in-form attack, with Cubo Torres scoring three goals (you may have heard). Mauro Manotas played well in his first game starting as a winger, and Houston were able to create a ton of big chances even without Alberth Elis starting.

This week, Elis will be on the field from the start, and that only makes the Dynamo look scarier. I imagine they’ll play similar to the way they did against the Red Bulls. Find more details on that here.

They won’t adjust much against the New England Revolution, even though they are going on the road and are facing a much different opponent than RBNY. The gaps they will hit and the geometry of their passing will change given that the Revs defend and press differently.

Wilmer Cabrera will likely pinpoint the Revs’ front three of Kei Kamara, Juan Agudelo, and Lee Nguyen when examining how to go at New England. Jay Heaps’s 4-4-2 diamond is narrow and relies on the three deeper midfielders to cover for the front three, who won’t defend a whole lot. With Manotas and Elis playing very wide, and both of them making their own unique runs (Manotas diagonally into the middle along with Cubo, Elis pushing outside the full back and taking him on), the Dynamo could push the Revs back and open space centrally for a midfielder to hit the resulting gaps.

That man would be Alex Lima.

The way the 4-4-2 diamond works lends itself to being able to overwhelm teams with central attackers, but it also requires a lot of tactical due diligence from the d-mid and, especially, the outside shuttlers. Defensively, the formation is sometimes expected to be a 4-3-1-2 without outside players other than the full backs.

If this doesn’t happen, opposing teams can more easily distribute from wide central channels, which also happens to be where Alex is at his best:

The Brazilian combines well in tight space and has been able to set the pace for eventual chances on goal by helping free a forward in the first place. Basically, any chance that isn’t a long diagonal ball (those are often created by him too) is combination play high up the field, and Alex, as the connector between the front three and the midfield, facilitates it.

He’s not a No. 10, and he won’t hit too many final balls, but he does play a big role in whatever build-up the Dynamo have. Lee Nguyen certainly won’t do much to stop him.

That’s not the only area he’ll be important, though. Another important element of the diamond is that without true wingers, the full backs take on more attacking responsibility, closer to a wing-back in a three-in-the-back formation. Left back Chris Tierney is crucial up and down that left flank for them, with his service to the head of Kamara and his ability to pull players out and open space centrally for Nguyen.

But the downside to that is he is often caught up field, and teams have learned to take advantage of the extra space. The Timbers were active down his side of the field, and productive:

Yellow lines represent key passes, or passes leading to a shot. That’s a successful passes chart for right back Alvas Powell and attackers Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco, Darlington Nagbe, and Fanendo Adi, and as you can see, they focused on getting numbers in that area of the field.

I think you can see where I’m going with this: the Dynamo’s direct, wing-oriented attacking style will certainly benefit from the opposing team’s left back spending a lot of time out of position.

Guess who will find those wingers getting into that space? That would be Alex, who will have the space to do it if the Dynamo come up with an effective tactical plan. Judging from last week, I have no doubts that they will recognize and capitalize.