On May 12th, 2016, the Houston Dynamo sat firmly in last place in the Western Conference. They lost 3-1 on the road to San Jose that week, with Tyler Deric receiving a 79th-minute red card and Jalil Anibaba playing out the last 11 minutes in goal. Ricardo Clark was the goal-scorer for the Dynamo that day; Clark pounced on a second ball off a corner and ripped a screaming half-volley just before the first half.
Six of the 14 players who made an appearance for the Dynamo that day no longer wear orange. The manager, Owen Coyle, would be let go two weeks after. Houston wouldn’t move from last-place other than brief moments in July in which pre-Lodeiro Seattle dropped below them.
On May 12th, 2017, the Dynamo defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 at home, with Alberth Elis and Erick Torres scoring goals. That win vaulted them into first place in the Western Conference, over rival FC Dallas.
The front office made some good moves in the offseason, and so far, it’s paid off pretty well. I won’t be fully convinced that this team is for real until they start getting road points, but it’s not debatable that they are considerably improved from last season.
Here are some takeaways from their most recent victory:
1. The One
It’s very possible that the Dynamo’s battle for starting striker is the biggest and closest positional battle in MLS right now. Torres and Mauro Manotas are neck and neck, and Wilmer Cabrera’s brief switch to the 4-4-2 diamond (in which both were on the field at the same time) was never going to stick around, so he’ll have to make a decision between the two.
Manotas won the start on Friday after netting a brace with Torres out injured last week, but when Alberth Elis went out injured just 30 minutes in, Torres had to come on, moving Manotas back out to the wing.
It’s difficult to gain a verdict on who will have impressed Cabrera the most. Cubo scored the goal, but that was on a penalty-kick that he did not draw (Manotas did). Manotas had more chances, but rather than put him definitively in front of the MLS Golden Boot leader, they exhibited finishing woes that unfortunately still exist.
You HAVE to finish this:
In my humble opinion, I’d pick Manotas over Cubo at the current moment, for a few reasons:
- He does more of the dirty work that No. 9s have to be able to provide, i.e. hold-up play and distraction runs that pull defenders.
- His movement in the box is much better than Cubo’s. Manotas gets so many scoring chances because of his ability to shake defenders when a winger is providing service from the touchline.
- He has more pure pace than Torres, and his strength and balance on the ball is underrated. Physically, he’s taller and more agile than Cubo.
Torres is the better passer and can do more playmaking work than Manotas, but for the three primary reasons above, the Colombian is, for the moment, the better option. This is very much subject to change, and could very well be a week-by-week decision.
It’s a first-world problem by MLS standards. Both players are young(ish) and fit the current desired playing style, which is get out and run as much as possible.
The next task for the front office is to 1) make a long-term decision between these two and 2) figure out what to do with the other player. If they pick Cubo (and I wouldn’t, because I think Manotas has a higher ceiling), they can find an intra-league trade partner and get a center back and some TAM for him. If they pick Manotas (which they should, imo), they’d have some work to do in getting rid of Torres for a good price. He’s a DP locked up on a big contract, and they’d have to find a foreign team willing to take him.
That’s for the future. For the moment, enjoy the fact that the Dynamo have two really talented strikers at their disposal who buy into the coach, the system, and the team. A whole lot of credit goes to Cabrera for this.
2. My Type
Let’s talk about what happened on Friday.
The Dynamo, somehow, faced a bigger challenge from Vancouver at home than they did from Orlando City or the New York Red Bulls. The Whitecaps were much more content to concede possession, pack it in tightly, and force Houston to create attacks from deep, which goes against the things that the Dynamo love to do.
We knew it would be a big test for them, because they would be forced to create opportunities in ways besides quick-fire counters targeting overlapping full backs. The Dynamo would have to keep the ball more, and pass more from back-to-front to attack a Vancouver team that is not willing to break shape and move forward themselves. Their full backs (Sheanon Williams and Jordan Harvey) are defensively sound and aren’t tasked with providing much in attack.
Houston realized this and were, admittedly, much less dangerous in attack. They did not have the clear-cut opportunities in transition they did in past home games, and they were unable to spread the field and create chaos. This time, they relied on individual moves from the forwards and creative movement in the box from Manotas and Torres. Their crossing total was five more than the season average, and the Whitecaps’ outside backs had their hands full dealing with Elis and Quioto attacking them 1v1.
Whatever they did, though, it came outside of Zone 14:
That’s a map of the entire team’s passes throughout the entire 90 minutes, so naturally it’s pretty crowded, but there’s noticeably little inside that black box. The Dynamo spent little time there, instead deferring to the wings for shifty runs from the wingers and sharp cutback crosses to the penalty spot. Alex (the de facto creator for this team) provides some exquisite combination play around the box occasionally, but his game is not meant for typical No. 10 activities, which would include creation from this area.
It worked enough to score two goals, and there’s an argument that there would have been more if Elis didn’t go off injured and Quioto wasn’t subbed early in the second half. Is it sustainable against better competition, especially on the road? That is the golden question, and it’s one that could very well determine the front office’s activities this summer.
Many have given deserved credit to the Dynamo organization for locating and signing young attackers who have made a difference to this team. Elis and Quioto were awesome finds, and they’ve made this team infinitely more entertaining and successful.
Don’t forget, though, that there were three other major acquisitions in the offseason who have made an important impact: d-mid Juan David Cabezas, center back Adolfo Machado, and right back AJ DeLaGarza. All three are weekly starters, and all three have had a stabilizing effect on a young and chaos-inducing club.
Cabezas is a workhorse No. 6 who makes tackles, hounds opposing playmakers, and sticks super tight to the backline, an attribute rarely seen from Dynamo d-mids in years past. DeLaGarza is a veteran presence who passes well, plays disciplined, and won’t get shredded 1v1 even by the most talented of attackers.
Machado is strong, active, and disruptive:
Adolfo Machado was third in MLS with 61 clearances going into tonight's game. He had 11 more against Vancouver and now leads by six.— Corey Roepken (@RipSports) May 13, 2017
I don’t put too much stock in basic defensive statistics, but this tweet reveals pretty well how Machado’s been able to get in front of balls and clean up messes in the box. For a team that will sit deep and defend a lot, they’ll need a center back who is able to do that. Although his passing and distribution are below-average, he is a much-needed commodity for this team.