I would first like to begin this article by giving my thanks and appreciation to fellow MLS Now Podcast correspondent, Mike Miller, for giving his input to certain questions that will be discussed in this post. If interested, go and follow Mike on twitter @MillerMike123. He covers RSL and has plenty of insight! With that being said, let's get into the nitty gritty content that everyone is here for.
Most fans would not have predicted Houston to be 6th place ten weeks into the season. Not to mention, HDFC has had two bye-weeks, meaning the team has played 1 to 2 games less than every other Western Conference team. To say I am pleased with how this season has gone so far would be a understatement. Looking at the standings, La Naranja currently sit with 13 points, boasting a record of 4 wins (all at home), 1 draw, and 3 losses. However not only has the Dynamo started the season with a perfect home record, they have yet to concede a single goal in doing so. Thanks to @MLS_PR on twitter, I am able to share this pretty remarkable stat:
That is 2 records thus far that the Dynamo have broken under the first year of Ben Olsen's tenure, with the other being Amine Bassi who became the first player to score 4 PK goals in 4 consecutive matches. The Dynamo's lucky number seems to 4.
The Dynamo have made Shell Energy Stadium a fortress, with fans quickly referring to home field as "Hell in the Shell". The major contributing factor to this home success is our defense. Olsen's game plan in every game thus far is to make it halftime with the score tied. Consequently, the most effective way of accomplishing this is to not concede a goal. The team stays structured and patient through the first 45 minutes of each game. In the match vs RSL, I expect nothing different. This may not pass the "eye test", or be the "prettiest" soccer, but I speak for all Dynamo fans when I say that as long as the team is getting consistent results, it matters not what the on-field play looks like.
Heading into the match, here is what I predict:
The team will attack in their usual 4-3-3, but defensively Ben Olsen likes to press in a 4-4-2, with Panamanian midfielder Coco Carrasquilla playing as almost a second striker. There is a slight chance we could see Sebastian Ferreira at striker, but the most likely scenario is former RSL ROTY Corey Baird.
As for RSL, I'll now discuss the questions I asked to Mike:
Q: "Who has been your biggest surprise of the season, as well as your biggest disappointment?"
A: "Andres Gomez has been the biggest surprise recently. It feels weird naming a young DP as a surprise, but he had zero goals and assists in the first five games. He has turned it on recently, however, scoring one goal and registering four assists in his last five matches. The entire defensive effort has been the biggest disappointment. The struggles are not necessarily all on the back line and goalkeepers, but the team led the Western Conference in shutouts last year (10) and just got the first one in 2023 last week against Seattle after eight-straight games with a goal given up."
My input: Look guys, Andres Gomez is a young up and coming player. He is only 20, but he's shown he has what it takes to play in MLS. Gomez is coming to Houston on a hot streak. He will be one to watch out for.
Q: "From what you know has being a fan of the league, what do you think of the Dynamo, good or bad?"
A: "I think highly of this current edition of the Dynamo. Houston used to be a club that was basically a free win, but the club has been taken in a new direction by management that has resulted in lots of success. I am a little bit jealous, Houston feels like what RSL could be if management put more effort in."
My input: It is always interesting to hear how your club is perceived to other fans around the league. Knowing RSL has gotten a new management in, I would expect to see some changes to the Salt Lake club soon. With offloading Justin Meram recently to Charlotte, they will look to getting reinforcements. Not to mention the long lost of injuries that are severing RSL. Having guys like Savarino (who was amazing in his first stint, to be fair) and Kreilach occupying DP spots isn't helping either. For Houston's POV, I am certainly pleased with how things have gone and I expect to only go up from here *knocks on wood*.
Q: "How does RSL prefer to attack? And what can the Dynamo do to minimize those chances?'
A: "RSL has typically been a team that relies on crosses and switching the field to score, but has recently found success with wingers cutting inside on the dribble. If Houston wants to minimize RSL's chances, they need to keep the ball away from the wingers. This will prevent both crossing and dribbling from the outside. Savarino and Gomez, the two starting wingers, have played a part in six of the team's 10 goals this season." My input: Savarino is always a dangerous player, I think most of the league can attest to that. It sounds like Dynamo should keep this game central, which plays into our biggest strength, our midfield.
Q: "What is your expected lineup vs your preferred lineup?" A: "Expected (back to front, left to right): MacMath Vera, Silva, Glad, Brody Loffelsend, Ojeda Savarino, Kreilach, Rubin, Gomez Preferred: Swap Caldwell for Ojeda, Luna and Julio for Kreilach and Rubin" My input: I've noticed Diego Luna, a very talented and promising young USYNT midfielder, has not been a part of many games for RSL. That is a shame because I am very high on him. However, that is good for the Dynamo. First glance, this looks like a tough team to break down. Justen Glad is always a stellar CB, so we'll see how the Dynamo offense can handle that.
Q: "What does the Dynamo need to do to exploit RSL's weaknesses?"
A: "RSL's midfield leaves a lot of space in the center of the pitch. If the Dynamo can successfully build meaningful possession there, they will be able to get numbers in the attack and plenty of scoring chances." My input: It seems I was right in my earlier deduction of RSL's midfield. This game will be won through the middle of the park. Luckily, Houston's midfield stacks up to any team in the league. The trio can score, can defend, can assist, and if Houston can find a way to get 3 points it will be because of Coco, HH, and Artur.
Q: "Score prediction for the match?" A: "2-1 Houston" My input: This will be a game of few goals, with both teams lacking in that department. Final score is 1-0 Houston.
As always, this has been Colin with Keeping Tabs, making sure that tabs are kept where I've laid out my tabs for the match. Thanks guys.