The Houston Dynamo opened their 2018 season in style with a 4-0 win over Atlanta United FC who is projected to do pretty well this season. Front to back it’s hard to grade any player harshly as the club put on one of their most dominant performances in a home opener.
Quick Thoughts about the Game:
1) The team came out very well and executed their game plan. The team was aggressive, but knew when to control the tempo – especially after the Dynamo had the lead. There are a few things the team needs to work on such as finding ways to build up play and attack teams that sit deep, but my biggest criticism is when the team sits back on a lead and allows opponents back in games. That did not happen against Atlanta. In fact, it appeared as if the Dynamo sniffed blood in the water and everyone wanted to go out and get a goal. This kind of strategy won’t win every time, and the Dynamo could have given up a goal or two if Atlanta hadn’t whiffed on their opportunities, but it’ll win a lot of games if they stick to this style of play.
2) The obvious place to start in a game that has four goals is with the forwards. The top three all worked well together, pressured Atlanta, and were dangerous with the ball. Andrew Wenger worked hard on the defensive side to block shots and win the ball back, but his runs made him especially dangerous. He was in the perfect place at the perfect time to open up the scoring at BBVA Compass Stadium and he set up Mauro Manotas’s goal with a perfect run behind his defender. Just before he was tackled he was able to just get a touch on the ball for Manotas to finish.
Speaking of Manotas, he’s embraced the role of a center forward along with the style of play Wilmer Cabrera wants to run. He’s ready to spring the counter attack, and even though he didn’t score on those opportunities, he did earn corner kicks. He’s also grown as a hold up player which he’ll need to continue to develop in order to give his teammates time to get involved and make runs.
Then there was Alberth Elis. Elis looked every bit the speedy Dynamo that he was last year and more. He terrorized Atlanta’s back line who sometimes weren’t even aware he was coming behind them to get the ball (take a look at the opening goal for that). His dribbling was also on display as he had step-overs and even more step-overs. Sometimes he feigns like he’s going to pass it off, only for him to cut and take off. Defenders really don’t know how to deal with him and usually his weakness is that he pushes the ball too far in front of him. Even though Elis didn’t get on the score sheet, his impact was arguably the most important of any player on the field.
3) There were lots of other standout players in this one. Darwin Cerén entered the game for Juan David Cabezas and was able to not only score, but pass well. The injury to Cabezas could have been a turning point, but Cerén helped keep the midfield stabilized. Kevin Garcia also surprised me with his performance. The right back spot was routinely exploited by Seattle in the Western Conference Finals, and the Dynamo didn’t make any offseason signings to shore up the spot, but Kevin Garcia showed up against Atlanta. He was active at pushing up the field and passing well while providing plenty of cover defensively. Philippe Senderos also had a strong game as he scored on a set piece, but also directed the back well with Adolfo Machado.
4) The defense for the Dynamo last season was not outstanding. It worked well when it needed to, but the system was not set up to support the back as much as the front. Against Atlanta United, we saw the defense on full display. The shape was perfect with Senderos, Machado, DaMarcus Beasley, and Kevin Garcia all covering for each other and communicating well. There were only a handful of times that Atlanta got a quality chance and that was due to quality marking. Atlanta fired off 13 shots, the same number as the Dynamo, except only 2 of their shots were on target. That’s the defense making things difficult for a very talented offensive team.
5) I think my favorite part of this game was simply how comfortable everyone looked. Nothing looked forced on either side of the ball. The offense was quick when it needed to be and patient to move the ball back to the defenders to let Atlanta chase the ball. There were a few nervous moments like Chris Seitz drawing a penalty, but he made up for it by getting a save. This was a great way to start the season and maybe show the league that they – as usual, underestimated what this team is capable of.