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Crossing the Touchline: Columbus Crew SC at Houston Dynamo

What to expect from the Black & Gold’s first road contest.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC hoped to put the disappointment of 2016 in the rearview mirror with the season opener at MAPFRE Stadium last week against the Chicago Fire.

The Black & Gold went up a goal early and played a solid first half, but the second 45 minutes was not as productive and the Fire pressed Columbus and found a way back in the game with a David Accam equalizer.

While it wasn’t a complete letdown and Crew SC got out of the game with the draw, it did feel similar to last season when the Black & Gold far too frequently dropped points when leading, especially at home where the team tied eight times.

Meanwhile, the Houston Dynamo, who finished at the bottom of the Western Conference last year, got off to a good start with a 2-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders, the defending MLS Cup champions.

Both teams have made several changes in the offseason, including the Dynamo naming Wilmer Cabrera as head coach. With him comes a new approach to Houston’s attack.

To get a better sense of what to expect from the Dynamo, as one game can only tell so much, we reached out to Derek Stowers of SB Nation’s Dynamo Theory.

Questions for Dynamo Theory

Massive Report: A new look for Houston with Wilmer Cabrera as head coach this season. While it's only been one game, a solid win, what is different with him in charge as opposed to Owen Coyle?

Dynamo Theory: Aside from personnel changes, which there have been massive personnel changes in players coming in and out, it’s mentality. Owen Coyle, after a season with a Dom Kinnear team, had time to rebuild the way he wanted and he promised attacking soccer. We saw that early on, but he got a bit nervous with the ways that MLS teams could counter attack against his high attacking line (specifically this change became reality after our last season game at Vancouver when Pedro Morales was able to send accurate long balls into forwards). After that we saw our team focus an unbearable amount of attention on the other end which led to a goal draught. The primary difference between Coyle and Cabrera (and remember it’s early) is that Cabrera doesn’t seem scared by other MLS teams because he has MLS experience.

The differences between this season and (the majority) of last season is how the team’s attackers play. Last season one or no forwards would pressure backlines and on counters few midfielders would participate in offense. This year, the team has bought into the idea of pressuring defenders and defensive midfielders in order to force poor passes to create counter opportunities. After that, get bodies up the field and you can score. It’s what Coyle promised, but a more complete version with attackers “playing defense” by rushing defenders. It requires everyone to stay focused, but so far it’s working as the team is currently undefeated (including preseason which doesn’t really count) under Cabrera’s charge. Hopefully, the run of success in this system lasts a little bit longer than it did under Coyle.

MR: Along the same lines, it's been three years since the Dynamo last made the postseason, and likely feels longer for you guys. Is there hope this is the year the team can turn things around and get back to the playoffs?

DT: There is a lot of hope for this season and a lot of pessimism as well. I think Dynamo fans have come to expect and anticipate success given how well the team did when it arrived in Houston from San Jose. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it keeps pressure on the front office. This season it feels a bit different compared to others prior. We haven’t had this many player changes since our 2011 season and we became the MLS Cup runner-ups the next 2 seasons after that. Because of the uncertainty it’s so hard to tell how well we’ll do, but there is hope especially early and the success of the preseason Desert Diamond Cup tournament and besting the reigning MLS Cup champs does bring confidence. Will we raise the MLS Cup this season? Probably not. Will we be back in the playoffs? I believe we can realistically fight for a bottom playoff spot given how competitive the West is. Only time will tell though.

MR: Who are one or two new additions to the club that Crew SC fans should know heading into this game?

DT: I could name several because this is a very “new-look” Dynamo squad right now, but if I had to name just two I will say be on the watch for Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis. They form our triumvirate of attackers along with Cubo Torres. Quioto in particular is dangerous (he did just win the MLS Goal of the Week and in preseason he scored a similar goal but with his opposite foot) as he anticipates where the ball will end up and can create a chance to score. He’s an incredibly gifted scorer and someone to not overlook, but that’s hard for defenses with Cubo in front of him. Elis seems to have an unlimited amount of speed in his tank. He will pressure defenders, win the ball, and get in on goal. He’s a great dribbler and not afraid to take on 3 or 4 players to create a chance on goal. His weakness is how much effort he defends behind the center line, but after Cabrera seemingly got on his case after last week, that may no longer be true.

Here are our answers to Dynamo Theory’s questions.