The Houston Dynamo are coming off another disappointing performance against league leaders Los Angeles FC and now look to turn things around on the road against Atlanta United FC in a midweek matchup. We caught up with Sydney Hunte at Dirty South Soccer to talk about his club and what we can expect to see in this one.
Dynamo Theory: Atlanta United FC are the reigning MLS Cup champs and they finished the 2018 calendar season 4th place in the Eastern Conference. Currently Atlanta sits in 4th place in the East again. Is this a “got everyone right where we want you” place to be, or were there different expectations because Atlanta is the reigning champ?
Dirty South Soccer: It was always going to be a difference between the style of Frank de Boer and the style of Tata Martino. That being said, the hope was that we’d see the same high-flying, high-scoring attack that really boosted Atlanta United in its early days. Under de Boer, though, it’s morphed into a more possession-based club that hopes to neutralize the opposing attack, which is good…when it works. And lately, it hasn’t, which is why this feels like a much different case than earlier iterations of the club. The new signing, Pity Martinez, has been very slow off the blocks to start his MLS career. Josef Martinez, while finding his form yet again, struggled early to find his way into the new tactical style. Ezequiel Barco and Tito Villalba, key parts of the offense, have been injured, with Barco showing marked improvement from a disappointing 2018 campaign but struggling to stay healthy since returning from the U-20 World Cup. With that said, I think the expectation for Atlanta was that they’d challenge to win MLS Cup once more or come close to doing so, but it’s really been a bit of a slog with 14 games left (counting Wednesday’s), and the fans have grown quite restless. The hope is that things pick up once players like Barco and Villalba finally get healthy and that rumored acquisition Mo Adams can improve its fortunes.
DT: Houston will have a little bit more rest than Atlanta in this midweek matchup. Given that the Dynamo are notoriously poor on the road and their current form hasn’t been spectacular, what adjustments will Head Coach Frank de Boer make with an important meet up with D.C. United this weekend?
DSS: It’s tough to say because of injuries to the defense (more on that later) and the fact that Atlanta’s number of games in hand over Philadelphia will decrease, so if it wants to make a push toward the top of an Eastern Conference that is still fairly wide open it will need to take the chances it’s been given. The hope is that Pity Martinez, who has been at the center of the headlines over the past week, maintains the form he’s been in over the last couple of games: he had what stood as the match winner against Saint Louis FC in the Open Cup and had some spells of strong play despite a loss over in Seattle. New signing Emerson Hyndman could figure into things offensively; since he’s still a bit newer to the team, they’ll want to be judicious with his minutes (at least early on) but does he get a shot against Houston after a strong debut against Saint Louis? Again, the defense will be the key story. I’ll dig into this in the next question, but this is a group that’s in shambles both physically and mentally. With the number of missing pieces, that leads into some tactical decisions for Frank de Boer: does he opt for a 3-4-3 with Michael Parkhurst, Leandro Gonzalez Perez and Miles Robinson or a bit of a wider formation in a 3-5-2? That remains to be seen.
DT: Atlanta have been among the best clubs in front of their home fans only losing just once in 2019. What will Houston have to do to get some positive result in front of a great crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium?
DSS: I think the Dynamo have to put pressure on the back line. Atlanta went on a run of 5 straight wins where it didn’t allow a goal, which is an MLS record. After the international break is a different story: it’s allowed 14 goals in its last 5 MLS matches, including a 5-1 loss at the Chicago Fire and a 3-3 draw against the Red Bulls. Add to that the fact that the defense has been banged up (Brek Shea has torn his ACL and is out for the season, Florentin Pogba has a thigh injury, Mikey Ambrose has had a setback with a hamstring injury, and Franco Escobar- while not injured - will be suspended due to yellow card accumulation), meaning that there will be plenty of questions as to how that group will look come Wednesday (see above). If Houston can exploit what has already been a fragile defense of late, they should win.
For my answers to Sydney’s questions you can check them out at Dirty South Soccer!