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The start of the Paulo Nagamura era has been divisive. Some are praising the Houston Dynamo’s defensive stability, and some are calling for his head after two games.
I am going to try and be more measured in my evaluation of the team. And how can you be more measured than using numbers? Each article I am going to highlight one positive and one negative aspect of how the Dynamo are playing as well as one unique stat about Houston’s next opponent.
1 – Houston has completed 1 pass into the penalty area (PPA) during the first 180 minutes of action for the 2022 season. The average PPA for all other MLS teams so far is 7.5 passes into the penalty area. The Dynamo struggled similarly last year, ranking 25th in the league with 6.6 PPA per game. However, the lack of an attacking threat has been more extreme this year. The Dynamo are somewhat able to move the ball into the opponent’s final third, they are middle of the pack with 51 passes that have entered the final 1/3 of the pitch, but they are unable to move the ball into the most dangerous area. This could be due to lack of offensive vision/skill or due to lack of off ball targets. I think it is due more to the latter. The Dynamo are sitting so far back that the wingers/midfielders are unable quickly transition into attack. Thus, Houston is always attacking against a compact back line and well-trained attacking patterns have yet to be established under Nagamura. With the passing lanes unable to be unlocked, the Dynamo are relaying on dribbling into the box, 3.5 carries into the PA per game, which has yet to be effective in producing a goal.
.06 – Even with the toothless offense, the Dynamo have been able to stay relatively competitive in both games, -1 goal difference, due to their solid defensive structure. As mentioned before, the Dynamo have been bringing everybody back to strengthen the defense. Similar to when Thomas Tuchel took over Chelsea, I believe Paulo Nagamura wants to establish a defensive structure then opens up the attack once he feels the team is ready. When the other team has the ball, the Dynamo sit in a very deep, compact 4 – 5 – 1 with Sebastian Ferreira up top doing his own thing. This has allowed the Dynamo to protect the most dangerous areas of the field. The Dynamo have allowed .06 xG per shot which is tied for best in the league. This is a significant improvement from the defense last year which allowed .10 xG per shot. The question is, what happens when the Dynamo push more numbers up? The quality of shots will improve for opposing teams, but to what magnitude?
37% - Vancouver Whitecaps average 37% possession per game. Therefore, the Dynamo should have the opportunity this weekend to control the ball. Hopefully Houston can have constant possession in the opponent’s half compared to the stale possession against Real Salt Lake. I expect Coco Carrasquilla or Darwin Quintero to start against the Whitecaps to help liven up the midfield. Without a connector in midfield, the Dynamo have had to rely on the fullbacks – Adam Lundkvist and Zarek Valentin lead the team in goals added. This weekend feels like a great opportunity for Paulo to take off the training wheels and see what the team can do against a Vancouver team that will be travelling across country and happy to play without the ball.