Following their 0-2 loss to Toronto FC, the Houston Dynamo return to the safe confines of BBVA Compass Stadium where they’ve been undefeated in 2017 to take on Orlando City SC.
In our preview of the match we discussed the formation changes the Dynamo have made recently, but we wanted to know about our friends in Florida so we spoke with Michael Citro at the Mane Land to get an inside perspective.
Dynamo Theory: Last year Orlando City SC finished 15th overall in the league last year. Currently the Lions are flying sitting 1st place in the Eastern Conference. What has been the major difference between the 2016 Orlando side and the 2017 group we see now?
The Mane Land: There are two main answers for this, but they’re related. First, the defense has vastly improved. Teams aren’t able to score as easily so far through 2017 as they have the past two years. Jason Kreis invested heavily in defense this off-season, bringing in Jonathan Spector, Scott Sutter, and Donny Toia to completely rebuild the back line. Spector has not only been as good as advertised, but he’s also providing veteran leadership to younger defenders, such as Tommy Redding and Jose Aja, which has made whoever partners with him in central defense better this year.
Another key defensive piece was veteran midfielder Will Johnson. The versatile defensive midfielder has served as the de facto captain during Kaká’s injury absence and he’s shown a willingness to do whatever must be done to put the team first, including starting the season at right back due to injuries to multiple players in that spot during preseason. Johnson, like Spector, has been a vocal leader as well as someone who demonstrates on the pitch with his actions how much he’s willing to do for the good of the team.
The commitment to team defense through the rebuilding of the back line, along with the addition of veteran leadership, have combined to improve the club by leaps and bounds.
DT: 2 – Orlando City were unfortunate to draw back-to-back games on the road with one being a mid-week fixture (MLS schedulers strike again!). Going from Toronto, Canada to Houston Texas in such a short stretch cannot be easy to do. What kind of adjustments will the Lions make against the Dynamo and do you believe the prioritized the earlier conference match at TFC over their trip to BBVA Compass Stadium?
ML: I think the Eastern Conference match may have been prioritized based on the personnel used – despite the lack of Will Johnson due to an illness – but it will be hard to say until we see the lineup against Houston. Jason Kreis made his players commit to a more rigorous off-season training program over the winter and worked on fitness throughout the preseason. This is a more fit team than last year. With a week between the match in Houston and a return home to play Sporting Kansas City, Kreis may play his best lineup to get a feel for just how fit his team is, because there are two more double weeks coming up for Orlando City.
DT: Giles Barnes played 5 seasons with the Dynamo before being traded and became something of a fan favorite for awhile. How has he transitioned with Orlando and how has he been received thus far among the fans?
ML: Barnes helped his cause by assisting on a goal with one of his first touches as a Lion. I think overall he has been well received by the fans, who were kind of split on Brek Shea – the player Orlando traded to Vancouver to acquire Giles. When I spoke of buying into a team defense concept and veteran leadership earlier, Barnes is an extension of that. He’s shown a tremendous willingness to accept less glamorous roles early this season, being used primarily in Kreis’ diamond midfield. Against New York City FC, he hounded Andrea Pirlo to completely take him out of the game.
He hasn’t shown us his scoring prowess so far, but I think the supporters overall are happy to have Barnes, who in return has seemed quite glad to be part of Orlando City. He’s been a pretty good leader in the Lions’ locker room and on the field, and I think he’s just scratching the surface of the things he can do in a purple shirt.
Projected Lineup: This is tough, as we won’t know the status of Johnson for a day or two, but if things go according to plan, it’ll be something like: Joe Bendik; Donny Toia, Jonathan Spector, Tommy Redding, Scott Sutter; Cristian Higuita, Antonio Nocerino, Will Johnson, Kaká; Carlos Rivas, Cyle Larin.
Predicted Outcome: Orlando City needs a result after largely outplaying Toronto FC but leaving BMO Field without any points. That said, Houston has been tough at home. I’m thinking this feels like a 1-1 draw.
For my answers to Michael’s excellent questions please check them out at the Mane Land!