Happy Monday, Houston! Let’s dive right into the Breakfast Links from a busy weekend.
The Houston Dynamo won 2-0 against Nashville FC Saturday night, in what felt like a must win game at home after 3 straight league losses. This was an extremely admirable performance by the entire club from top to bottom. Coco Carrasquilla, with the ink from his recent contract not even dry yet, found himself on the end of keeper Joe Willis’s spilled save and as calm and cool as you would like to see, he buried the opening goal with his right foot into the bottom left of the goal giving the Dynamo the early 1-0 lead.
There would be some major controversy in the 35th minute as Dynamo full back Adam Lundqvist would be sent off with a straight red card. The referee called it without hesitation, much to the surprise of fans, coaches, players and especially Lundqvist himself, who was extremely adamant of the decision being the wrong one. The lengthy VAR review ended with confirmation of the original call, leaving the Dynamo to play the remaining 55+ minutes being a man down. Coming from a team that has struggled to hold on to any sort of lead, this would be their biggest test yet. A test they would ace with excellence as absolutely everyone showed up in extraordinary fashion.
Thor Ulfarsson and Lundqvist were the only 2 starters not to register a 7.0 match rating or higher from Fotmob and that is truly inspiring to see given the circumstances. The Dynamo were able to hold lead through half time and would even add on to it in the 52nd minute when Fafa Picault drew a penalty when he used his speed to catch up to a beautifully weighted through-ball from Darwin Quintero. Fafa barely got a touch on the ball which took it just out of Joe Willis’s reach, thus taking the contact and going down to earn his side a penalty. Darwin Quintero stepped up and took responsibility as he buried the penalty kick, giving the Dynamo a 2-0 lead in the 53rd minute.
In the 58th minute coach Paulo Nagamura made the change to bring on Ethan Bartlow, making that 3 center backs on the field in the 5-3-1 formation as they tried to hold on to their shorthanded lead and they would do just that as they held Nashville at bay for the remaining time to take all 3 points in this gritty and electrifying home match.
Standout performances littered the Houston lineup, and we could really talk about every single player as the guys came together for a shining example of the fight you want your club to show. The ability to overcome adversity and keep fighting till the final whistle, these are the qualities that have been preached by coach Nagamura and we saw it come to action on the field in poetic form. The exceptional play between Fafa and Zeca, with Zeca’s ability technically and Fafa’s speed, they were making overlapping runs and getting into dangerous positions all night and that is a relationship the fans will love to see blossom.
Darwin Quintero registered a 7.9 rating on Fotmob as he continues his dominant form and played an extremely pivotal role for the Dynamo as he scored his 5th goal of the season and created 2 big chances. He really could have had a few assists as well with his brilliant ability to create all over the pitch. Teenage Hadebe was a massive part of this team effort as he has next to perfect anticipation when shutting down his lane through the box. He made several key defensive interceptions, blocks and headers. His ability to get in the way and extend his radius while keeping other teams from getting comfortable in the box is a major asset to the Dynamo. As is his ability to come forward and distribute when necessary. However, Hadebe did receive a yellow card in this matchup which means he will miss Wednesday’s match against the recently crowned CONCACAF Champion Seattle Sounders due to the yellow-card accumulation suspension.
It also needs to be mentioned that Beto Avila saw his first action in a league play this season after recently becoming the first player to sign an MLS contract from the MLS NEXT Pro league. He announced his presence to the coaches with a diving header to clear a corner as the waning minutes of the match ticked away to help the team close this one out.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the performance of substitute Sam Junqua, who played a fantastic 50 minutes of soccer on Saturday night after being called upon to replace Thor shortly after Lundqvist’s early exit. He was brought in to help calm the waters and improve possession by creation and he did his job without issue as he completed an impressive 88% of his passes, 100% of his dribbles, 80% of his ground duels and had 4 clearances, 3 headed clearances, 1 interception and 2 recoveries on the night for a very solid outing and exactly what coach Nagamura was looking for when he called his number.
The substitutes Tyler Pasher, Griffin Dorsey, Ethan Bartlow, Beto Avila and Sam Junqua all came on and did exactly what was required of them. They were not caught out of position or trying to do too much, they were well advised by Nagamura and came in the game and helped kill the clock to bring that 2-0 lead to its conclusion. Also worth mentioning, is how impressive it is to finish that type of game out with a clean sheet
Overall, it was a beautiful night at PNC stadium that saw an electric crowd watch their club win against insurmountable odds, showing an extreme amount of character. This is exactly the kind of game that you want to see from a group that is searching for their footing and trying to identify who they are as a team. It is games like this that show just how much character and heart these guys have and that will only grow. The unmitigated gall and determination that's required to pull off a win like that, like I said, it is extremely inspiring, and I am sure they can use this to build and further strengthen their bonds. The Dynamo are just beginning to scratch the surface, and this was a prime example of what this club is capable of. The future is bright, and I promise you are going to want to be a part of this. The Dynamo do not have much time for reflection as they are back in action quickly this Wednesday, May 18th, at PNC stadium against the Seattle Sounders at 7:30 PM.
The Houston Dash took on Racing Louisville on Saturday night at Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky. The Dash were looking for their 2nd win of the young NWSL season, as they were unbeaten against Racing Louisville in their previous 4 matches. That streak would be extended as this one ended in a 1-1 draw.
Racing Louisville would have most of the possession in this one with 60% but the Dash would still look like the more dangerous team as they had twice as many shots on target with 4, more total shots with 11, and more shots from inside the box as they brought that fast transitional style of play on the evening. They were unlucky not to have a lead going into the half and it would take until the 77th minute for either side to break through.
Maria Sanchez’s cross from a corner found Ally Priscock in the middle of the box where she redirected toward goal only to have it saved and spilled by keeper Katie Lund to an aware and ever-dangerous Nichelle Prince who headed home from the left side of the six-yard box. The Dash would try to hold off the onslaught of possession from Racing Louisville but ultimately, Jess McDonald would find the equalizer with a technically sound header straight down into the bottom right corner of the goal locking things up at 1-1, and that is exactly how this one would end. The Houston Dash are back at it Saturday May 21st with an away game at Providence Park against the Portland Thorns.
Houston Dynamo 2 were unable to come away with a victory this weekend as they lost to Minnesota United FC 2 on penalty kicks. Dynamo 2 did have the slight edge in possession in this one with 54.8% overall and had slightly more in the first half before MNUFC2 evened out the possession in the 2nd half. Dyanmo 2 continued their menacing ways with 9 shots on goal, 74.7% pass accuracy, 16 clearances and completing 28.6 % of their crosses. The scoring would open in the 54th when Dynamo 2 ran a play that was something directly off the training ground. A short corner came to a waiting Juan Castilla, who took one touch with his right and then bent in a screaming curler of a cross into the box with his left to find a charging Talen Maples. The pass landed directly on his forehead as he crushed in the header to give Dynamo 2 the 1-0 lead, scoring from a set-piece for the 2nd week in a row.
Juan Castilla had an excellent game with that beautiful assist and his normal dominant and calming presence from his holding midfield position. Papa N’Doye had a solid night as well, continuing his ability to create issues for opposing defenders with his speed, strength and tenacity. He was quite unlucky on the game with .39 xG registered while also putting 6 of 7 of his shots on target. The unlucky mention of the game goes to forward Joyner Castillo, who started and played 63 minutes up top. He had 2 shots and 1 on target but registered and extremely high 1.03 xG, so hopefully luck turns around for the youngster next time out.
Houston Dynamo 2 will be back at it on May 25th at Zions Bank Stadium for an away match against Real Monarchs. After this week’s uncharacteristically unfortunate loss in PKs, coach Kenny Bundy will look to go back to make the necessary tactical changes for the team to digest prior to taking next week’s road trip. This one can be chalked up to being unlucky and the statistics back that up, so I am confident they will turn it around next weekend.
Major League Soccer
Atlanta United and the New England Revolution battled it out Sunday afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. There was plenty of anticipation heading into this one and they certainly would not disappoint. Thiago Almada would have his tremendously quality free kick saved, dug out of the bottom left corner from a swift reactionary save by Matt Turner in the 11th minute. Almada would not have to wait long to get his next opportunity as a blocked cross landed at his feet. He completed a beautiful first touch back toward the top of the box, creating space for himself as he laced a ferocious blast with his right. The shot curled just out of Matt Turner’s reach and tucked away into the back right corner of the net to give Atlanta United the early. 1-0 lead.
It would be the 30th minute before New England had their chance to bring themselves level and they would not squander the opportunity. A lovely little give and go between Adam Buksa and Carles Gil would find Buksa in on goal behind the defense where he would show zero hesitation in immediately crushing it one-time with his left, nutmegging keeper Bobby Shuttleworth and sending the ball rolling into the back right of the goal. Buksa was not finished yet though and in the 55th minute, Sebastian Lletget cut back from his outside run and sent in the perfect cross with his left from the top right of the box, and again Buksa found himself sneaking in behind the line unmarked. Following a perfect first touch that he redirected goalward off his chest, he allowed it to bounce twice before delivering a rocket into the top left of the goal with his left. Bukas’s brace on the afternoon were his 5th and 6th goals of the season for the New England Revolution.
Atlanta United would respond in quick fashion as Thiago Almada would find Luiz Araujo on a devastating run in behind the defense and Araujo would finish without issue with his right footed shot into the top left corner, getting Atlanta United back on level ground in a game that saw defense as secondary. Both teams had numerous chances to walk away with this one, but it just was not in the cards for either team and a 2-2 draw is where this one would finish.
The Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls played each other on Saturday, both with a chance to take over the top spot in in the Eastern Conference standings if they were able to come away with all 3 points. The first half of the game was even as NY Red Bulls registered a .35 xG and Philadelphia with .40 xG, but that’s where things would start to get interesting. Philadelphia would open the scoring in the 47th minute with a lethal give and go from Daniel Gazdag to Sergio Santos who slipped Gazdag right through two defenders with one on his heels and in on goal through the middle of the box. His right footed shot would be true and into the top right corner of the net to give the Union the 1-0 lead. In the 55th minute the tide would turn when Dylan Nealis received his second yellow card forcing him from the contest, leaving the Red Bulls down to 10 men for the remaining 35 minutes and some change.
Even while being a man down, New York were able to muster the mental and physical fortitude to bring themselves level despite the odds. In the 66th minute Cameron Harper sent a bouncing cross from the top of the right side of the box toward a cutting Luquinhas, who knew exactly what he wanted to do with it as he caught it on the half volley first time and crushed it into the top left corner with his right and tied the match 1-1.
With another 25 minutes remaining Philadelphia threw everything except the kitchen sink but the Red Bulls were able to hold the line and protect their box to see this one all the way out to its end. Neither team was able to take advantage in the standings and instead of taking 1st in the Eastern Conference standings, the Philadelphia Union sit in 3rd and the NY Red Bulls sit in 5th.
CF Montreal took care of business Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina as they beat Charlotte FC by a score of 2-0. The first goal came from none other than 23-year-old phenom, Djordje Mihailovic in the 45th minute as Joaquin Torres flicked on a beautiful through pass and found a sprinting Romell Quioto as he pulled away from the 2 defenders giving chase toward the byline. Quioto was quickly running out of room when he chipped the perfect low cross back to Mihailovic who could not have been more alone in the center of the box, and he sent his right footed shot into the center of the goal as keeper Kristijan Kahlina did not have time to fully recover his positioning.
The 2nd goal of the match came in the 67th minute from Alistar Johnston. Kei Kamara found Johnston open about 5 yards from the top of the right side of the box and Johnston took a brilliant touch toward goal that not only created space but also popped off the ground just enough to allow him to find that sweet spot and catch it coming down. He made contact just as he crossed into the box and knuckled a worm-burner off the left post and into the corner of the net. Charlotte would have their chances with most of the possession, more total shots, shots on target, shots in the box and registered a 1.06 xG on the evening ,but were unable to capitalize on any of their chances and this one would remain at 2-0, with Montreal taking all 3 points. They are now unbeaten in their last 8 games sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings in 1st with 20 points, tied with Orlando City and Philadelphia.
In a game that saw 2 red cards and 9 goals, defense was thrown out the window as the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City traded blows. Well, SKC was attempting to match Portland in trading blows, but Portland was throwing haymakers as they torched SKC 7-2. Sebastian Blanco had 2 goals and 2 assists in 77 minutes for the Timbers on Saturday evening in one of the better individual player performances you will see on the season. Registering an extremely impressive Fotmob rating of 9.5, he did as he pleased all game on his way to helping the Timbers annihilate SKC.
Around The World
With Saturday being the last day of the Bundesliga season, Bayern shored up their season and finalized taking home the 2022 Bundesliga Title. Borussia Dortmund said their official goodbyes to club phenom Erling Haaland, as they came from behind to beat Hertha Berlin 2-1 on Saturday morning in their last game of the season. That loss did push Hertha Berlin into a relegation playoff where they will have to fight just to stay up in the Bundesliga for next season.
Haaland, who will complete his move to Manchester City this summer, was able to score in his final game for the Black and Yellow. The club legend scored his 86th all-around goal in his 89th and final match for the club. It was a sad but anticipated day for Dortmund fans as they enter the summer with major questions heading into the transfer window. It has been stated that the club are in the works of adding the likes of Nico Schlotterbeck, Niklas Sule, Karim Adeyemi and even rumors of adding Sebastian Haller, which would be a major step in replacing the offensive prowess of Erling Haaland. Those very well might seem like unfillable shoes and only time will tell. One thing is for sure, the Black and Yellow wall of 80 thousand screaming fans at Signal-Iduna-Park will remain ever faithful and optimistic.
RB Leipzig were able to hold on to their narrow 1-point lead and will make a return to Champions League football next season. Coming in 5th and 6th place, FC Union Berlin (5th) and SC Freiburg (6th) will have to settle for Europa and Europa Conference League appearances as they could not muster a Champions League run this season.
Manchester City were unable to seal the deal this weekend and secure that elusive Premier League title as they tied West Ham 2-2. With a 1st half 2-goal masterclass from Jarrod Bowen, City narrowly avoided disaster as Jack Grealish was able to pull one back shortly after the 2nd half started in the 49th minute. They would find the equalizer but not from their own player as a headed own goal from Vladimir Coufal would tie this one up. With 5 minutes remaining City would have the best opportunity to go ahead late as Gabriel Jesus was brought down by Craig Dawson in the area and was confirmed a penalty.
Riyad Mahrez stepped up to take responsibility of the PK that would essentially seal the EPL title for City. The penalty kick was taken with some zip, but Lukasz Fabianski made a downright prodigious save that not only kept City from claiming the title on their grass but also keeps their hopes alive of making a return to European soccer next season. I am sure Manchester United will have something to say about that. Manchester City are very much in control of their own destiny and if they win their final game, it will bring the title home. If their result is anything other than a win, it will leave the door open for Liverpool to make a comeback with their game in hand.
There are currently 4 teams in the English League Championship playoffs, striving to acquire their tickets to fulfill fan and player dreams by being awarded Premier League status. Luton Town, Sheffield United, Nottingham Forrest, and Huddersfield Town (3rd) are battling it out in hopes to join Fulham and Bournemouth in the Premier League next season. Luton Town and Huddersfield Town played to a 1-1 draw in the 1st leg of their promotional play-in series on Friday, May 13th and will reverse home field advantage before they meet in the finale today.
Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United met in the 1st leg of their playoff match on Saturday, May 14th. The game started off fast and in the 10th minute, after winning a free kick, Phillip Zinckernagel found himself in the middle of the box on the end of a beautiful cut back low cross from Sam Surridge, but he was denied by the keeper after he crushed it goalward. The save was spilled into the box directly toward a fast-approaching Jack Colback, who comfortably and confidently smashed it with his left boot sending it rocketing into the top right corner giving Forest the early 1-0 lead. They would add onto their lead in the 71st minute as Brennan Johnson sent his right footed shot into the top right corner from the center of the box.
Despite having the lion’s share of the possession (61%), Sheffield United were unable to keep pace with Forest in transition. Sander Berge, for Sheffield, was the only one able to pull one back but it was not until the 91st minute and that is exactly how this one would conclude 2-1. The 2nd leg of their matchup will be on Tuesday, May 17th and Nottingham Forest will have home field advantage in that one. That will decide who plays the winner of Luton and Huddersfield town in the promotion playoff final on Sunday May 29th.