1. OK. Houston was bad last year. But you've already almost equaled your win count from 2016, and it's not even June. What changed, and why is it working?
A lot has changed and it starts at the top with the head coach. At the beginning of last year we had Owen Coyle (who recently got Blackburn Rovers relegated from EFL Championship to League One in England) and by the end assistant coach Wade Barrett was in control. The team never fully rebuilt itself following the departure of Dominic Kinnear and keeping one foot in the past and one foot in the future is a good way to go nowhere which sums up the last few years.
The front office realized many of its mistakes and quickly hired Wilmer Cabrera to be our head coach who had been with our USL affiliate the Rio Grande Valley Toros. With Cabrera on board we made sweeping changes with the players. Long term Dynamo players such as Will Bruin were traded and many others did not have their contracts picked up or were left exposed in the Expansion and Re-Entry Drafts. Cabrera built the team that would play to his style and it’s largely worked – at least at home (more on that in the next question). He brought in speedy players out wide in Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis who have supported Cubo Torres by being equally threatening in front of goal. The defense has been completely reshaped with only DaMarcus Beasley being a holdover from last season. The players have developed chemistry quickly because they’ve bought into a fun and fast paced system.
I would argue it’s working, but it isn’t without its problems and those problems seem to surface themselves on the road where we look like a very different team. Hopefully those issues can be straightened out as we play more and more games away from Houston.
2. You've been unrivaled at home, drawing once and winning six times. Is there any reason for RSL fans to hold out hope?
Short answer: no. Long answer: maybe for a couple of reasons. The first is simply minutes. The game against RSL will be the 6th game and 2nd midweek game of the month and we play Seattle on Sunday. We also just played this past Sunday so that’s a lot of minutes for players especially when you consider the typically fast paced style Cabrera demands from his players. Fatigue could definitely come in to play.
The other reason is if we play more conservatively, like we usually do on the road, then it’s anyone’s game. At home our forwards pressure high up to force bad passing out of the back, our midfielders are there to intercept passes, and our defense is generally organized. We’re capable of making a defensive stop in our end of the field and then create a counter attack that sets up a shot on goal within seconds on the other end of the field. This works because forwards rarely retreat back and are ready to start the counter, but also works because of the pace and positioning of the midfield and their ability to support the offense. When we play behind the ball more like we do on the road we give up the midfield and strand our forwards. Just about every road game for huge stretches this is what we see. If the Dynamo play like this at home then RSL definitely have a chance and a good example would be our lone draw to Minnesota United. That draw, most Dynamo fans will tell you, feels like a loss. But if we’re playing our brand at home then we can beat anyone in the league.
3. Cubo Torres has been outstanding in goal count — but is he the player driving things forward? Who's your catalyst?
Wilmer Cabrera helped bring Cubo into a wider MLS consciousness by helping him in his breakout year at Chivas USA. Since Cabrera has taken over in Houston he’s made Cubo the focal point of this offense and Cubo has rewarded that confidence by producing. But is he completely responsible for the offense finding the net? Of course not, and I think several players actually influence the game. I mentioned Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis earlier and the two really open things up for Cubo. They bring loads of pace and love to dribble at defenders (Elis even goes at packs of defenders). At any time it could mean removing someone from defending another player and the three equally complement each other in that regard.
The other player is the versatile Alex. He’s arguably the guy to get things going. He pushes into the offense as a midfielder, dribbles, has great vision with his passing, and isn’t shy about taking a shot on goal either. I don’t want to knock Cubo who has improved lots of areas of his game including his passing, holdup play, and shot selection, but Alex is what connects the ball to our forwards more often than not and that would make him the main catalyst on the team.
Lineup: Heavy minutes and a busy schedule will play into some of these selections so it’s a guess, but an educated guess.
4-3-3: Tyler Deric; DaMarcus Beasley, Jalil Anibaba, Adolfo Machado, A. J. DeLaGarza; Alex, Juan David Cabezas, Oscar Boniek Garcia; Mauro Manotas, Erick “Cubo” Torres, Andrew Wenger