This time last year the Houston Dynamo were preparing for their clash in the Western Conference Finals against the Seattle Sounders, but a year later and the Dynamo are on the outside looking in. The 2018 campaign was an up-and-down ride with a few too many downs than ups, but there is plenty to look at and grow from as we transition to the next season. And hey, the Dynamo did come away with the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup which isn’t something to scoff at. Below are a few of my thoughts and observations from the 2018 Houston Dynamo and after that you can tell us how you thought the players performed overall. Harrison Hamm did a great write up on his take on every player so definitely check that out as well.
Quick Thoughts and Observations from the 2018 Houston Dynamo
1) The emergence of Mauro Manotas as a true goal scorer in this league was refreshing. He started the year well and went into a bit of a scoring drought during the summer – which can sum up the team’s performance in general during that time– and he got hot towards the end of the season and during the US Open Cup. He’s shown an ability to score with his head, from distance, and he’s feasted on passes across goal which he taps in. He’s become a better passer and his strength for holding up the ball has also improved. He still needs to do better with some of his decision making as we’ve seen him sometimes struggle when he goes 1v1 with players or the goalkeeper. 2019 will be a good year for the young Colombian.
2) Only three teams scored more goals in the Western Conference than the Houston Dynamo and there’s reason to believe they could have finished more given their talented trio up front. The defense on the other hand is a different story. They allowed 58 goals which actually isn’t a terrible number for the Western Conference. That ties Real Salt Lake’s tally and they made the playoffs. However, Dynamo fans know that the defense was one of the biggest factors in the team not getting to the postseason.
Lineups along the back four were not consistent. Our center backs interchanged seemingly randomly some weeks and while DaMarcus Beasley can still contribute at a high level, he’s gotten older. The right back position which had been filled by A.J. DeLaGarza in 2017 was tough to figure out. First we tried Kevin Garcia there which wasn’t a great fit. Then Adolfo Machado – also not a good fit. New signee Adam Lundqvist slotted in and was serviceable for awhile, but the utility player Andrew Wenger lined up and that finally worked well.
In central defense Alejandro Fuenmayor had some growing pains with his decision making in 2018. He’s given up some own goals and was sent off early against Sporting Kansas City, but he’s also had some poor passes out of the back. Philippe Senderos has shown to help keep the back line organized, but he simply can’t stay on the field. Injuries and other lineup shuffling hurt the back line’s ability to develop chemistry, but they were also impacted by a lack of a true defensive midfielder on the field and tactics that doubled down on defending. This doubling down essentially forced a mediocre defense to defend for longer periods of time and that hurt the outcomes of some games.
3) Speaking of tactics…the doubling down that I mentioned above was largely during road performances and in games in which we took the lead. It’s a very conservative strategy which doesn’t utilize what the Dynamo do best: attack and attack often. Essentially Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera’s goal in this scenario is to have a greater number of players behind the ball to defend against the home side or the side behind on goals and to try and steal a point or points on the road via the counter attack. However, this breaks down because our forwards often won’t commit to playing defense so there is still a numbers advantage for the opponent. It also creates a gap in the midfield which makes it difficult to build up play and get the ball to the forwards. There are perfectly reasonable times to park the bus, but it isn’t after the opening whistle at any away venue.
4) The result of these conservative tactics has been conceding goals, especially late in games. One thing I’ve noticed when we go down early in games though is that Houston picks up the way it plays because they now have to work to equalize or catch up. In general they’ve actually played better when they’ve come from behind because they’re able to get off a lot of chances as we commit more numbers up the field. That strategy is very successful against some teams, but not against very stout defensive sides like the Seattles of MLS. However, utilizing the approach of attacking with more numbers before going down a goal might see things work in our favor like we’ve seen in the US Open Cup game against Sporting Kansas City or the opener against Atlanta United.
5) Losing the 2017 team MVP Juan David Cabezas 15 minutes in during the opening game of the season really dealt a blow to the Dynamo. Darwin Cerén stepped up as a replacement, but really couldn’t distribute the ball quickly or accurately like Cabezas. Sometimes Cerén would play a pinpoint perfect pass which would lead to a goal and at other times he would play the ball to an opponent leading to a counter attacking goal on our end. Eric Alexander is a decent distributor, but is not a true number 6. Getting a reliable and durable defensive midfielder to backup Cabezas should be a priority for the front office looking forward.
6) It seems like in the last few years we’ve had some form of goalkeeper battle going on. It’s been Tally Hall vs. Tyler Deric, Deric vs. Joe Willis, and this year was Joe Willis vs. Chris Seitz (and later Deric once again). The Dynamo announced their Team Awards with Manotas earning the MVP nod. I think the runner-up could deservedly go to Willis who kept the Dynamo in several games with some big time stops. Willis did take home the Humanitarian of the Year for the club and he’ll likely be the team’s starting keeper in 2019 unless Cabrera decides to keep shaking things up.