Wilmer Cabrera and the Houston Dynamo made a calculated decision to put out a lesser side in their US Open Cup match on Monday against Minnesota, who played a full strength XI. Cabrera, who historically has not been fond of giving his starters significant Cup minutes, had an eye on Saturday’s game against Sporting KC.
The decision paid off about as well as Cabrera and co. could have expected. Mauro Manotas’ flick header a couple of minutes into the second half proved to be the winner, as Darwin Quintero hit the post on a last-second PK and Houston escaped with a 1-0 win. Three starters (Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto and Tomas Martinez) provided good shifts off the bench to lock down the win.
Nothing was perfect or especially clean on the rainy Monday night, particularly for the Dynamo’s slow and mistake-prone backline. But they’re through to the quarterfinals again with a looming matchup against perennial Cup contenders Sporting KC.
Some takeaways, highlighted by Manotas:
Manotas has developed into an excellent pure goalscorer. He has six goals in 13 starts this season and added another against the Loons (on a set piece, which might be the Dynamo’s most significant non-Elis strength).
The Colombian has always liked to shoot, but he’s become better at it as he’s grown into an every week starter. He shoots 2.6 times per game, according to WhoScored, which is a gradual growth from 1.9 in minimal 2016 minutes and 2.2 last year, and he is putting himself in good positions. The clever 18-yard box runs that have always been there continue to be the best examples of his striker IQ.
It’s his passing in the attacking third and willingness to combine with teammates that needs the most work. Too often, he resorts to ripping a shot from distance or unsuccessfully trying to break through the opposition himself. His passing chart against Minnesota is surprisingly barren of action in major attacking third areas:
He dropped deep and made a couple of good passes from there, which is good, but he needs to show himself as an option near the goal more often. Strikers, whether you want to call them traditional No. 9s or not, have to act as the focal point of a team’s attack one way or another. Especially as a lone forward, it is Manotas’s responsibility to draw central defenders through runs in the channels or hold-up play.
To his credit, he’s been better at shielding the ball and using his body this season. But he needs to turn that positive development into consistent hold-up play and involvement in the attacking third. Houston would immediately become more effective in possession if Manotas becomes 1) more willing to be involved closer to goal and 2) better at getting his head up early and finding passes. Case in point:
Here's an example. Elects to shoot rather than try to find a pass that would lead to a higher percentage shot pic.twitter.com/fwxKZuv3yA— Harrison Hamm (@harrisonhamm21) June 19, 2018
Waiting that split second to get your head up and find a runner is crucial.
2. Memo Rodriguez impresses again
Memo’s path to first team success feels similar to Manotas’s. He picked up nine MLS appearances last year (three starts) and already has six this year, plus a handful of cup appearances. If he follows the Manotas path, he’ll add some league starts in the second half of the year and grow into a more consistent contributor next year.
Rodriguez, 22, is a savvy, tenacious winger with a high motor and a low center of gravity. He manufactures occasional moments of brilliance on the ball, whether through shifty dribbles or beautiful line-breaking passes, and is capable of making good decisions in the attacking third.
There is also this:
He managed to draw a foul on this play, lowering himself into Miguel Ibarra and forcing the contact. If he wasn’t going to get enough to get the foul, he would have either won a corner or won possession. Getting this physical position on another player is a skill that is applicable in many contexts. It’s a good one to have.
3. Kevin Garcia is too tentative
Garcia struggled at right back. One sequence, in the final minutes before Elis entered as a straight swap for Manotas, stood out.
Arturo Alvarez, Garcia, Eric Alexander and Luis Gil were passing the ball around on the right flank. The opportunity for Garcia to make an overlapping run is conspicuous throughout the video. He never does it, and Alvarez’s eventual cross is easily headed away:
This entire sequence is begging for a Kevin Garcia overlap but it just never happens pic.twitter.com/5VVRO2ReU3— Harrison Hamm (@harrisonhamm21) June 19, 2018
Commentator Matt Pedersen pointed it out on the broadcast. “Garcia … no interest in overlapping.”
Had he taken the acre of space waiting for him, the Dynamo likely could have put a much better ball into the box, or even reached the end-line and pulled a pass back. There are plenty of benefits to staying back as an option instead of overlapping, but in some situations it is too advantageous to pass up.