Ralph, another one of the new recruits to join the Massive Report staff, is a journalist from Columbus, Ohio. He began following Crew SC in 2009 after the MLS Cup run. In addition to writing for the Massive Report he travels throughout the region attending various sporting events. He meets and interviews fans in an effort to learn about the teams they support and their connection to their city. He is very eager to get to work and cover Crew SC. You can follow him on Twitter at @schudel_ralph.
Columbus Crew SC had moments of promise in the season opener. The Black & Gold dictated the pace of play and jumped out to an early 1-0 lead against the Chicago Fire, only to see their lead vanish later in the second half.
Similarly, the Houston Dynamo came flying out of the gates in its season debut to hang two goals on the defending MLS Cup champion, Seattle Sounders. Like Columbus, Houston had a Jekyll and Hyde performance, losing its attacking identity as the match progressed.
Crew SC hits the road this week and head to BBVA Compass Stadium to clash with the Dynamo on Saturday Night. Let’s take a look at what you can expect to see from the Houston Dynamo.
Attack, Attack, Attack
One thing is for sure when you look at this Houston Dynamo team.
After a last place finish in the Western Conference in 2016, this club underwent numerous changes, including bring in new manager Wilmer Cabrera. The new boss looks to have the Dynamo run a pressing 4-3-3 that constantly attacks and moves the ball up the pitch. Having been reunited with forward Erick “Cubo” Torres, Cabrera is looking to recapture the magic he had with the striker at Chivas USA when he scored 15 goals in 29 appearances in 2014.
Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto were brought in to compliment Torres and were a factor in the win over Seattle.
It appears Cabrera may be onto something as the formation set up Torres for a free kick in the 20th minute of last week’s match and he unleashed an absolute beauty for his first goal in orange.
Houston’s attack is most effective with quick and precise passing. The Dynamo attacked frequently from the left in the opener with Quioto, who often looked to cross the ball in quickly to Torres. Occasionally, Quioto and Elis swapped wings to throw a different look at the opposition as they look to draw the outside backs away from the penalty box and get to the center backs.
This game is going to be full of intriguing matchups. The most exciting matchup will be Harrison Afful against Romell Quioto. As the Dynamo favor the left side of the field, it will be intriguing to see if they go after a player the caliber of Afful. In last week’s match against Seattle, Houston attacked the Sounders outside backs with ease as they worked to get central and create chances.
Torres will not shy away from challenging the Crew SC center backs. Expect him to make several off-the-ball runs and cut to open up spaces to allow Elis and Quioto to work.
The midfield will then push up and unleash a flurry of shots towards the opposing goal. Last week, the Dynamo had 10 shots in the first half after some instances last season when they didn’t have that many in an entire match. This will be a key for Crew SC midfielders Wil Trapp and (likely) Mohammed Abu to contain and limit opportunities.
Much like Afful and Jukka Raitala, the Dynamo outside backs, A.J. DeLaGarza and DeMarcus Beasley, enjoy playing the match in an advanced position. They often pinch in towards the corners of the 18-yard box and clean up any loose balls that may fall to them.
If these two can catch Columbus with the the wing backs forward and now help defensively out wide, it could cause problems for the Black & Gold.
Centerbacks Leonardo and Adolfo Machado are a great pairing but they aren’t going to win a ton of aerial duels. Both players rely on their physicality to muscle attackers off of the ball and disrupt shots. Ola Kamara and the weak-side Black & Gold winger will need to find the spaces in between these two, as they did on Ethan Finlay’s opening goal last week.
How Crew SC win
After the first round of games, it appears the Dynamo boast a potent team in 2017, but they showed cracks in their armor as well.
The Houston system of attack requires players to win the ball back quickly after losing possession. Crew SC can exploit this by being aggressive in the midfield and it will be a compete team-effort from Abu, Trapp and Federico Higuain. These three should look to do the same and get the ball to Justin Meram, Finlay or Kamara frequently.
If Crew SC can gain possession quickly and find Finlay on a quick pass, the midfielder could have a great evening. Beasley’s endurance seemed to come into question against midfielders who had pace, which Seattle recognized and exploited by having Nicolas Lodeiro switch and attack his side of the field. This became incredibly evident in the second half as Houston sat back with a two-goal lead.
In game number two for the new look Crew SC defense, it will be interesting to see what changes were made and if the chemistry improved between the back four. If they can communicate effectively and maintain position they should have no issues against this potent Dynamo attack. They will have great success if they can catch the Dynamo cheating up the field and hit a pass to either Meram, Finlay or Kamara on the counterattack.
As is always the case, much of Crew SC’s success will rely on whether they can maintain possession throughout the course of the game. Columbus absolutely needs a great performance from Higuain after a bit of a clunker a week ago.
Center-backs Nicolai Naess and Jonathan Mensah will be called into action again as they are tasked with stopping Cubo Torres, who is no pushover when it comes to aerial battles. Last week against Seattle, he won these fights consistently against taller defenders.
Both of these teams struggled in the second half of their respective openers and will hope to minimize mental lapses going forward. The Dynamo made several preventable errors, one of which was Alberth Elis’ lackadaisical defending on the Seattle attack, which lead to Clint Dempsey scoring the Sounders’ lone goal.
Keeping mental errors to a minimum will ensure success in this game, but then again it is Major League Soccer. Is anything an absolute certainty in this league?