Houston Dynamo are strong across the pitch until you get past the front line. Make no mistake, there is a lot of potential in Wilmer Valderrama’s side, but it hasn’t manifested in anything consistent in 2019.
Last year, the Dynamo relied on the two-headed monster of Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto. Both players were so good in transition that Houston was able to wipe aside opponents without controlling matches. Now Quioto looks listless and will miss Sunday’s matchup after receiving a first-half red card against New York City on Thursday evening.
Elis is coming off a suspension of his own — this one for yellow card accumulation — and remains an almost singularly menacing presence in space. The Honduran will do battle with Kai Wagner up the wing all night long, with the German looking to pin Elis deep (he will track back… eventually). The Union may return to Warren Creavalle on the left to help with Elis and monitor Tomas Martinez if Jamiro Monteiro is held back as he recovers from injury.
Houston counterattacks tend to be more efficient and focused when they run through Martinez. The playmaker’s elite skill is his long passing, and the Union defense must be organized when dropping because when Martinez’s head is up he’s constantly looking in behind.
Martinez’s attacking prowess is not quite matched by his defensive abilities and the Union should be able to play through Haris Medunjanin with ease if they can move the Houston midfielder around in their initial buildups.
About those buildups… expect a lot of them. The Dynamo aren’t quite as passive defensively as many make them out to be. Off goalkicks, they can press high and move forward to the next line well as they force the ball into the air and try to create turnovers close to goal. The rest of the time, Houston will sit off defensively, but they don’t move well vertically. Both in retreat and when stepping forward, the Dynamo tend to create jagged lines in midfield and defense, allowing opportunities when the ball is initially moved to the defense and play is recycled. If the Union look to play penetrating balls soon after playing backward, they may find players in enough space to turn and drive at a backline that is not comfortable when moving toward their own goal.
If Andrew Wooten retains his place in the lineup, look for him to attack the space between the right fullback and right center back. AJ De La Garza doesn’t read the diagonal run in front of his body quickly and Wooten may be able to sneak behind the line and open his MLS account.
Wooten and the Union welcome Houston Dynamo to town on Sunday, August 11 at 6:00 p.m. ET at Talen Energy Stadium. The match will be live on PHL17.