In the player preview series, we are going to take a look at the current players on the Houston Dynamo roster, how they performed last season, and what we might expect from them in 2022. Here is the next in our series and stay tuned for more to come in the weeks leading up to the start of the season.
Position - Center midfield
2021 MLS stats – 30 appearances, 29 starts, 3 goals, 1 assist
Entering his fourth season in Houston, Matias Vera is a veteran on this Dynamo roster. The 26-year-old signed a new contract in November that will keep him in orange through the 2023 season with a team option for 2024. Bringing Vera back seemed like a no-brainer for the new regime. The Argentine was a constant in 2021, appearing in 30 games and scoring the first three goals in his Major League Soccer career.
Vera was much more involved in the attack last season. His three goals would suggest that, but we can look at some other numbers to show just how involved he was in the offense. His shot creating actions per 90 minutes were 1.98 last season, up from 1.65 in 2020. Vera’s expected goals were 3.1 in 2021, up from an almost non-existent 0.4 in 2020 and his expected assists jumped from 0.5 to 1.7.
Vera’s role in the midfield this season, along with all the other midfielders, seems to be up in the air. If Darwin Quintero is a starter, or if the team signs a true number ten, Vera can play more of a six, a defensive midfielder. If Vera starts with Adalberto Carrasquilla and Darwin Ceren (or Derrick Jones), Mati may play more forward as an eight or even something resembling a ten. If we look at Vera’s scouting report from fbref.com, you see his versatility on display.
The offensive numbers ended up around the middle of the pack for the most part last season, but the defensive actions seemed to suffer. Vera has 101 tackles in his first year in Houston, in a similar number of games, and dropped to 56 in 2021. His pressures went down as well, from 604 in 2019 to 490 last season. Vera’s blocks are high, and this has been a skill he has been good at with the Dynamo. This all begs the question; do you want Vera playing as a defensive midfielder? Based on the numbers in his MLS career, it looks like his best position is a little further up in the midfield.
Paulo Nagamura may decide to use Vera more as a shuttler, a “position” that is becoming much more popular in world football. In a 4-3-3 this is the midfielder who “shuttles” up and down the midfield channels to link the attack and the defense. This would require Vera to be able to pick his spots of when to go forward and get involved on offense and when to track back and defend. Former Italy and Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio played this role very well during his career. Vera is obviously not Marchisio, but it is not out of the question for him to play a similar spot for Nagamura.
For Vera to take on a role like the shuttler, he is going to be looked at to pass more. Vera didn’t pass a lot last season but his completion percentage was high, a lot of that because he didn’t pass the ball long, and that is just fine. Vera completed 89.4% of his short passes (5 to 15 yards) last season and 94.0 of his medium passes (15 to 30 yards). These are very high numbers for a midfielder linking the back line to the goal scorers. Vera’s progressive passes and carries aren’t as high as you may like but with a number 10 (maybe Darwin) in front, wingers to the sides, and Sebastian Ferreira’s one on one ability, there should be other players to get the ball more forward and into dangerous situations.
If Nagamura can get Vera into a comfortable position where he is linking short passes, and breaking up passes in the defensive third, he could perform at a high level this season. There are so many moving parts in a midfield and in the whole of a team but having a central cog in the wheel is huge. However the team sets up, it looks that Vera will be a big part of that and this preseason has backed that up. At 26, Vera is still in his prime and his success this year could go a long way in determining how the season goes for the Dynamo. A good year from Vera linking the team together could lead to a playoff push. If Vera plays poorly and there is a hole in the middle of the field, the offense and defense are both going to suffer and 2022 will be another long season in Houston.
How do you feel about Matias Vera coming into this season? Let us know in the comments.