Playing the numbers game: Where do the Dynamo stand?
There's only one set of numbers in MLS that matters: the standings that currently have the Dynamo sitting handily in an Eastern Conference playoff place with 22 points from 14 games.
But with the Dynamo on a bye week, HoustonDynamo.com dived into Opta's vast MLS stats database to peek behind the headline figures and take an alternative look at how the 2013 season is going so far.
As you'd expect from a team boasting the precise delivery of Brad Davis, the Dynamo are in the league's top five for accurate delivery of crosses and corners. Dominic Kinnear's team is also among the best in MLS at winning aerial balls. They're in the top five for most corners taken and what Opta calls "big chances created".
Away on U.S. national team duty this week, Davis's already-excellent accuracy rates for passing, crosses and corners, passing in the opposition half and in the final third are all slightly better this season than last. And the Dynamo captain's impressive all-around play is underlined by the fact that he is on track to improve his defensive stats by making more clearances, interceptions and headed clearances in 2013 than in 2012.
Confirming what our eyes have already told us, the Dynamo have lively wingers. Andrew Driver is eighth in the league in dribbles attempted in his first season in north America, while Boniek Garcia is third in chances created from open play.
Suggesting he's determined to hunt down loose balls, forward Giles Barnes leads the team in duels attempted – that is, 50-50 contests to win the ball between opposition players. Barnes has even been involved in more duels than the Vancouver Whitecaps' Nigel Reo-Coker, who's quickly gained a reputation as one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS.
The former West Bromwich Albion playmaker showed he can strike a dead-ball with aplomb in last week's 2-0 U.S. Open Cup win over FC Tucson, scoring a superb late free-kick from the edge of the penalty box.
But scoring directly from a free kick is something that MLS teams in general find very tricky. Across the league's 19 clubs, Opta has logged only five free-kick goals this season from 168 attempts. That means only one in every 34 shots hits the net.
Some like to describe the Dynamo as a team that's reliant on set-pieces for goals, but that isn't fair. Houston can score in a variety of ways. The Dynamo's tally of 13 assists from open play is joint-second-best with the Portland Timbers, behind the Montreal Impact.
Houston meet FC Dallas next Wednesday in the fourth round of the Open Cup. Montreal are the Orange's next MLS opponents, a week later. The numbers suggest that the Dynamo defense will need to do its best to avoid giving the Quebec club a good sight of goal.
The Impact lead the league in shot conversion rate, at 19.3%. So nearly one in five of their shots beats the goalkeeper. That's far above other MLS sides (the worst three teams are below 9%).
Not surprisingly, they're also the most accurate shooters – 53.51% of their shots hit the target, well above the MLS average of 44.19%. And yet, Montreal have taken the fewest crosses and corners in the league. All this might imply that they like to work the ball through the middle and tend to shoot from close range and only when they're confident of success.
The MLS match this season with the most accurate shooting? None other than the Texas derby, won 3-2 by Dallas in Frisco back in March. There were 16 shots in that game, and an incredible 75% were on target.
By contrast, when Houston memorably beat the Los Angeles Galaxy in California last month, there were 21 shots but only 19% forced the goalkeepers into action.
Emphasizing what a great job the Dynamo back line did in keeping out their opponents, that 1-0 win featured the most crosses from open play of any MLS game this season: 49. And also by far the fewest fouls conceded: just ten between the two teams.
The Dynamo have been involved in the fixtures with the most and the fewest blocked shots so far this year. The victory over L.A. had 13 blocked shots; the defeat to Portland, only one.
Two Houston games have also seen the most corners - 18. The thrashing of D.C. United at RFK Stadium and (you guessed it) that incredible match against the Galaxy.
Incidentally, L.A. are one of two teams not to have scored from outside the box yet (the other is the Chicago Fire). Yet last year, Bruce Arena's men led the league with goals from distance, scoring 19. And Chicago were joint-second, with 13.
Finally, think goalkeeper Tally Hall has safe hands? U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann does, having called the Dynamo player into his squad for the World Cup qualifier against Jamaica tonight. And the Opta numbers agree. Hall's 24 catches are the joint-most in MLS.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian and SI.com.