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The Dynamo don’t know how to play on the road

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A second away loss for the Dynamo illustrates their inability to get crucial road points.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at New England Revolution Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Dynamo’s 2-0 loss to the New England on Saturday puts their record at 3-2 on the season. I’m not including draws in that record because, let’s face it, the Dynamo are not built for draws. They’re built for straight-up wins and losses.

If you notice, and I’m sure you have, they’ve played three home games and two road games. That’s three home wins and two away losses.

It’s no coincidence that they win in Houston and lose elsewhere. Significant tactical problems are evident, and they will need to be fixed soon. Dropped points early in the season always come back to haunt you.

The reason for the road struggles starts with their core playing style. The Dynamo like to sit deep and compact and try to isolate the forwards up top using deep distribution from the midfield. They rely on individual ability, pressing with speed, and the back seven to keep its shape.

But what if the other team dares them to come out of their shell? They don’t know how to react, and the other team (New England and the Portland Timbers) are able to take advantage with extended possession in and around the final third. Mistakes are bound to happen when the opponent stacks enough players around the box, and that’s why you saw the backline fumble the ball later on at Gillette Stadium, and that’s why you saw Tyler Deric make an uncharacteristic howler that led to a goal.

Here is the Revs’ first half passing chart:

New England scored the first goal of the game just after the second half started, in the 52nd-minute. Notice how much more possession they had in the final third following that goal:

The Revs set up shop around the Dynamo backline and kept strings of possession, wearing down the midfielders and, eventually, opening gaps in the channels for players like Juan Agudelo to capitalize on. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the exact same thing happened in Portland last month.

Compounding the Dynamo’s issues was that they doubled down on their above attacking strategy by completely isolating the front three + Alex up top, hoping to gain space on the counter. That forced Ricardo Clark and Eric Alexander to cover a ton of ground in front of the backline, and gave New England acres of space in the final third.

Revs local analyst Paul Mariner pointed out on the broadcast that the Dynamo’s shape was disconnected from back-to-front, and they were allowing way too much room for Lee Nguyen and co. to circulate the ball horizontally. That’s what ultimately killed the Dynamo.

The smart way to remedy this would have been to drop Alex deeper and attempt to possess the ball at least a little bit through midfield, but it appears they do not have the ability to do this. Thanks in part due to smart Revs pressing and in part due to lack of ability from Houston, almost every opportunity to progress the ball upfield ended in either a hopeful/pointless long ball or an individual loss of possession:

Without any sort of ability to turn possession into something meaningful, Erick Torres was left barren of service, and the Dynamo got trapped in their own end for long periods of time. This is why they are unable to win on the road.

They’ve only played two away games, but a pattern can be sensed here, and Cabrera needs to solve it sooner rather than later. Going the rest of the season concentrating on making up lost road points with home wins is not a great plan for success. Just ask last year’s Timbers.