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Takeaways from the Dynamo’s US Open Cup win

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How they played tactically and how the young guys looked in the win over North Carolina.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Houston Dynamo at North Carolina FC Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The magic of the US Open Cup got good on Wednesday. Two weather delays, three lower-league wins, a last-second own goal, and an extra time period were among the features of the action. A lot happened. The Dynamo’s game in North Carolina against North Carolina FC may have been better than any other game.

It included five goals, an hour and a half-long lightning delay, extra time, and about 4,000 Dylan Remick goal-line clearances. Despite the Dynamo’s reserve-filled lineup — not a single starter got on the field — the game was entertaining, open, and well-played. It was good soccer, not something we often say about USOC games.

Some thing we learned:

  • The Dynamo played an asymmetrical, free-flowing 4-4-2. Charlie Ward was the d-mid for most of the game, Eric Bird was a shuttler on the right side, Joe Holland played like Alex does but more withdrawn, and Memo Rodriguez was a true winger out on the left side. It was something resembling what the USMNT have done in recent games. Here’s what it looked like for most of the game:

When Vicente Sanchez flared wide like the winger he is, it became something like a 4-3-3. Defensively, it sat back into a flat 4-4-2 at times. Sometimes it was a 4-2-3-1 with Bird deeper and Sanchez wide, other times it became a 4-1-3-2, or a 4-2-2-2. The designations don’t really matter too much here.

Bird played like it was a diamond on the right side, spending most of his time pinched in slightly ahead of Ward and usually neglecting opportunities to flare out wide. With Sanchez taking those responsibilities, it freed Bird to move all over the midfield helping circulate possession with Holland. It was organized and well-put-together by Wilmer Cabrera.

  • Joe Holland is a No. 8, not a creator. Holland was to told move forward and connect the midfield and forward lines, and it was clear that he was attempting to execute that directive. He was farther forward than the other two central midfielders and even managed to put two shots on target.

But the Dynamo had trouble generating opportunities from midfield, and the advanced distribution needed to do that was pretty clearly missing. The passing map for Holland, and while it’s by no means bad or problematic, it doesn’t signify a central playmaker:

Holland had a very good 120 minutes. He moved the ball intelligently and with a purpose, and he worked very well with his two midfield partners to control the tempo of the game. But he’s a No. 8, a box-to-box midfielder, not a No. 10. Hopefully in future USOC matches he is allowed to play his best position.

  • Memo Rodriguez showed flashes, but we need more. Finally, we got the chance to see Jose Memo Rodriguez play extended minutes in a Dynamo uniform. It’s hard to say he disappointed, considering he scored the winning goal in extra-time and created multiple shots for himself and others with tricky runs through NCFC’s gaps.

I will say, though, we could have used more. There were stretches where he disappeared, and only a couple of times did we see him take defenders on 1v1 and be ambitious on the ball. He didn’t do enough off-the-ball to test North Carolina’s backline, and his movement wasn’t sufficient to 1) get him the ball and 2) open space for someone else.

There were flashes. It wasn’t all there, though.

  • Stock up, stock down. This game will likely be used by Cabrera to evaluate who has a short-term future with the first team. Here’s what we got from the first team and the two subs who were on the field for a long enough time:

Joe Willis (GK): Willis has an argument for being the best backup keeper in MLS. His stock is up.

Dylan Remick (LB): A really, really good game from Remick. There were at least two instances where he prevented balls from going into an empty Dynamo net, and he scored another goal off a set piece. He also spent a lot of time going forward, often helping connect passes with Memo and the strikers.

Very few MLS teams have three high-quality full backs like the Dynamo do. Remick is either DaMarcus Beasley’s long-term replacement or very good trade bait. Stock way up.

Jalil Anibaba (CB): At the beginning of the season, I rated Anibaba higher than Leonardo, and I had him starting in central defense ahead of the former LA Galaxy starter.

That may have been a mistake. Leonardo’s been solid in central defense, and Anibaba was no better than average in North Carolina. Trending down.

Taylor Hunter (CB): Hunter, like Anibaba, was good enough on Wednesday, but he didn’t do a whole lot to elevate himself on the depth chart. The central defense was beaten over the top too much, pointing to a lack of coordination and cohesion. Stock even.

Kevin Garcia (RB): Garcia was consistently ripped apart by NCFC attacker Lance Laing. Often, it was through direct balls over the top, but other times, he failed to keep up with him on the dribble. He got beaten like a drum more than a few times, and it could have resulted in more than one goal.

Stock down, courtesy of Lance Laing.

Charlie Ward (DM): Ward has been the Michael Bradley of RGVFC for a year and a half now, and he showed that he could do it with the first team as well.

He was on the ball a lot, passing very efficiently to his midfield partners and staying disciplined in front of the backline. It was a statement performance for Ward, who will be looking to take over the second spot on the Dynamo’s d-mid depth chart. Stock up.

Eric Bird (CM): As mentioned earlier, Bird played more as a shuttler than anything else. He floated all over the midfield, connecting Ward and Holland and controlling the tempo. Stock up.

Joe Holland (CM): We went over him above. He’s not a No. 10, so don’t play him there, but he did a lot to try and earn himself a role with the first team at some point. I could see him as a Rico Clark-type for the Dynamo at some point.

Stock up.

Memo Rodriguez (LW): It would have been nice to see more of Memo, and he didn’t finish very well for most of the game, but he scored the winning goal in the 109th-minute. Stock slightly up.

Andrew Wenger (ST): Wenger hasn’t been mentioned a lot so far, but we should all be impressed by the fact that he stepped right into the role of center forward after never playing it for the Dynamo in a year and a half and he excelled, scoring a goal and looking threatening all game.

Wenger is a true utility player. He can play literally any field position, making him incredibly valuable for any MLS team. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with another player like him in this league. Stock rising.

Vicente Sanchez (ST): Sanchez earned the assist on Wenger’s goal, and he was threatening all day drifting out wide. At 37, he was very good. Stock up.

Jose Escalante (sub): Escalante played 39 minutes off the bench and looked goal-dangerous coming in from the wing. Memo was better, though. Stock even.

Ruben Luna (sub): Luna came on and played as a No. 9 up top, and he looked a bit like Cubo Torres but with better hold-up play. He wasn’t afraid to play with his back-to-goal, and while he didn’t come up with many chances, he looked very capable as a true center forward. Stock up.