The Houston Dynamo dropped another, their second in a row and their third loss in a row at BBVA Stadium, this time to a team low in the standings in the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Fire. The 1-0 result felt like the Dynamo had a chance to equalize following Nemanja Nikolic’s game winner before halftime, but the team struggled to break down a Fire side that dug in deep for most of the second half.
Quick Thoughts about the Game:
1) Before digging too deep into the game let’s take a quick look at the moment of the match, Nikolic’s eventual game winner.
Prior to the goal, the Dynamo looked really ready to go into halftime. Alberth Elis had given up a silly foul near the edge of the 18 yard box and Mauro Manotas had awkwardly cleared it out for a corner. On the goal, the corner was taken short and then played out to Nicolás Gaitán. Gaitán then had relatively no pressure to perfectly play a ball into the box for Nikolic to capitalize on. DaMarcus Beasley appears to gesture to A.J. DeLaGarza something, who had another mark as well, and Nikolic found space between the two to put the visitors up. Kiki Struna and Maynor Figueroa (along with possibly Alberth Elis) kept everyone onside. The entire sequence leading up to the goal highlights how checked out the team was at this moment. I get it, there was a weather delay, the field was wet which can make it difficult to move up and back, but mentally you have to be locked in for 90+ minutes otherwise moments like this can cost a team points when they really need them.
2) If you watched the Dynamo for the first time Saturday night you would have thought, this was a close game that they probably deserved to at least draw. The stats in general bear that out, but those that have watched the Dynamo this season know the trend. We saw it against Seattle who also won 1-0 and we saw it again with the Fire. After getting a lead, the best plan against Houston is to park the bus because we can’t break it down.
It’s frustrating because the players themselves have a ton of talent, but are best with space in front of them. Give Elis a ball with acres of space between him and the goal and the Dynamo have pretty good odds to get one passed the keeper. Take that space away and what we see is a lot of standing around waiting for the ball. There is a lack of movement off the ball leading to players essentially marking themselves. The strategy seems to be to keep moving the ball wide to cross it in and if the chance doesn’t look good, pull it back to reset. One positive that I saw was when Figueroa or Struna brought the ball up and took players on. It was something a lot of our attacking players, save Memo Rodríguez and Tomás Martínez at times, didn’t do nearly enough.
This team has a lot of talent and a lot of potential that isn’t being utilized. I understand that the schedule has been rough, call-ups have tested the depth, and disciplinary issues are now creeping up with Quioto and Elis, but to possess the ball as much as we did in Chicago’s half and not come away with a goal shows that tactically something is wrong.
3) One thing we saw the Fire implement late in the game was a possession style tactic which saw the Dynamo chase the game. This is exactly the kind of strategy I wish Houston would use when we have the lead. Spread the field, possess, and make the opponent actually chase you to get the ball to create their chance. It’s a solid strategy that does have some holes – notably the ones by spreading the field – but are filled by holding onto the ball for extended stretches which eliminate opponent opportunities to strike against you. I hope the Dynamo can learn from the way the Fire moved the ball very late with the lead rather than Houston’s usual strategy to resort to their bunkering approach.
4) So what does is it all mean in the long term? The Dynamo didn’t drop a place in the Western Conference standings and are still only three points back off a playoff position. The win against Toronto FC is encouraging, but more will have to be done if Houston wants to make the playoffs and that includes winning games at home.