The Dynamo is easily the hottest team in MLS and hasn’t lost since DC beat them at RFK six weeks ago, but DC is only a step behind as both teams are coming off important wins this past week. Houston should be flying high after dismantling the former league leading Red Bulls with ease 4-0 on Thursday, while United might be feeling just a bit lucky to have escaped Kansas City with the full three points.
Obviously, the Dynamo have to be the favorites in this match as they are at home and clearly playing as good as they were in winning the MLS Cup last year. In their current unbeaten streak, they have crushed the cream of the crop in beating NY, KC, Chivas, and Dallas, as well as efficient wins over Colorado and the Crew. The only blemish is a scoreless tie with Dallas two weeks ago.
While DC on the other hand has nearly as good a record, but has done it with far less convincing play. They were outplayed by KC on July fourth, yet still pulled off a 1-0 win. It also took a bolt of lightning to wake United enough to pull away from Colorado, and they lost to the worst team in the history of MLS in Salt Lake City a mere two weeks ago.
Still, despite the shaky play, United has gotten the results. Good teams find a way to win even when they aren’t playing their best and that’s happened twice in the past two weeks for DC. Given that DC has shaken up its defense and is only recently figured out what they need to do to be successful, it’s gravy to be collecting points and rising to the top of the East as well.
However in this particular match, United just may not have enough dogs on the track to bet on them winning. Houston is just playing too well right now and they will be at nearly full strength to boot, while United will likely be missing it’s Copa America players as well as deal with injuries and new faces in the defense.
Houston will be without Brad Davis for sure as he recovers from a strained knee, but his left midfield slot has been filled admirably by Stuart Holden who sparked the big win over NY with a goal and two assists. Likely Ricardo Clarke misses this game as well as he’s just returning from the Copa America in Venezuela, where he played the full 90 in the United States final game on Thursday. However, once again the Dynamo have a first class replacement for Rico in former All Star Richard Mulrooney, so they shouldn’t miss a beat.
United on the other hand, will be without Jaime Moreno, who’s taking a detour to his native Bolivia before returning to United after his Copa America stint, as well as Ben Olsen and Bobby Boswell who both seem unlikely to make the starting eleven. Boswell played the full match on Thursday, and Olsen played most of the first two matches. On top of that, Namoff and Kpene are both still up in the air with their troublesome hamstrings.
Nicholas Addlery has had mixed success replacing Moreno and Kpene. Against Colorado, he changed the match and was player of the week in MLS. Against Kansas City he was little more than spectator with a great seat right there on the field of play. Justin Moose has had mixed success as well replacing Ben Olsen. Lovely attacking instincts against KC, but subbed at halftime as he was a bit lax on the defensive side of the ball. Dominic Mediate replaced him and was a lot tighter defensively, but contributed nothing to the offense.
In the defense, McTavish has done supremely well replacing Boswell and while he got beat a bit too easily by KC forwards at times, he also made literally three game saving plays to keep the clean sheet. Vanney also had a great first match for the club, despite one glaring mistake with the ball, but Simms looked a bit dicey replacing Namoff on the right. He held his own for the most part defensively, but his distribution of the ball was shockingly poor.
All in all, not a game film that will be pleasant to review, nor will it cause any concern for Houston as they will almost be salivating for the chance to bury a team that is stupid enough o gift them with that many chances. Houston has much more efficient scorers along the frontline that will not miss as much as KC did.
Looking at the matchups, it’s tough to see where United will have any advantages. Emilio and Addlery going against Cochrane and Eddie Robinson, who’s returning from suspension, is not good for DC. They are a bit quicker than the Houston duo, but unless Gomez and Fred provide a lot of support, they aren’t likely to generate much on their lonesome as they haven’t seemed to develop any kind of connection between them yet.
But, Fred and Gomez will have their own troubles. Gomez going against Mulrooney is the worst kind of matchup for the defending league MVP. Mulrooney is athletic, yet smart and tough and likes to stay at home and smother his mark out of existence, all of which will make it hard for Gomez to find room to operate. Ricardo Clarke would actually be a better matchup as he likes to attack and can be caught out at times.
However, even aside from anything Houston throws against him, Christian is really struggling to find his form in the new formation which has led to horribly erratic play. He’s got defensive responsibilities for the first time ever and it’s made him think instead of react which has caused him to slow down and play too safe or too sloppy. It’s also left Carroll hung out too many times as well. Really, Gomez has to find his game in order for DC to really start clicking on offense, but this match doesn’t seem too likely to be the stage for that.
As for Fred, he’s been carrying the offensive load lately, but will be going against the best right midfielder in MLS in Brian Mullan and the meanest right back ever created in Craig Waibel. Not only will Mullan work our Brazilian to death, Waibel won’t hesitate to lay some wood into Fred for every inch of real estate and every touch of the ball. If Fred manages to make an impression on the match going against these two beasts, then he will have truly risen to the cream of MLS. Hopefully, Gros can help him out offensively, but that seems unlikely as he will have his hands full with Mullan, and he hasn’t made a decent play on offense in a month anyway.
Then Moose or Mediate are at best an even matchup with Holden. Moose is too offensive minded and might leave Simms exposed behind him, while Mediate hasn’t shown enough offensive punch to pin Holden back. Truly, aside from Moose playing out of his mind or Mediate finding his offensive touch, Olsen is our only chance to swing this side of the field our way. But he’s had a tough stretch of games in South America and will only be rejoining the team barely in time to make the match, so even if he plays it might not be at his best.
Defensively, things couldn’t be much worse even if Boswell plays. Bobby has the bulk and experience to handle Ching as well as anyone, but Ching still scores more often than not anyway. And Boswell will have had virtually no practice with Vanney before the match, and his playing would likely mean the benching of McTavish after his thrilling performance against KC. Plus, McTavish might be a better matchup with Ngwenya.
On the outsides, Simms should lock down Holden well enough, but Gros could be facing the nightmare scenario in trying to stay with Mullan. Exceptional natural defenders have trouble with Mullan, Gros just learning the position could be in for some brutal lessons on Sunday.
Bottom line is that Houston looks to be the better team at this point in time. Barring a meltdown against us like they did in RFK a few weeks ago where they outplayed us and still lost, or a miraculous out of body experience like the way we took apart the Red Bulls a few weeks ago, DC doesn’t seem likely to take away any points from this one.
Frankly, just coming away with a tie will be a moral victory. Obviously, United has to play much better in taking care of the ball and utilizing the wings than they did against KC. That has been the bell weather for their success. If they play wide, make aggressive runs, and possess the ball reasonably well, they create chances and usually come away with the points. However, even that may not be enough as Houston has all the advantages in this match. But, by all means they must avoid their tendency to bull through the middle and give away the ball with sloppy passes, because if they do the game could easily become a debacle of Red Bull proportions.