Numbers game: Houston Dynamo say they can adjust team shape depending on situation

4-4-2 or 4-3-3? "Whichever formation we start winning with," says Barnes

A blend of a rough midweek result and being short-handed for their weekend game pushed the Houston Dynamo into a shift from their customary 4-4-2 formation to the 4-3-3.

With the Dynamo expected to again be short-handed for their Saturday road matcup against Chivas USA (9:30 p.m. CT, CSN), could the formation shift get a longer run?

“You have to adjust as the games go, either to your opponent or what you have at your disposal,” head coach Dominic Kinnear told reporters on Friday. “Just because we’ve played the 4-4-2 in past doesn’t mean that every single minute of every single game we’re going to play a 4-4-2.”

In last Sunday’s 1-1 draw against the Portland Timbers, the Dynamo were without midfielders Tony Cascio, who had what is likely season-ending surgery on his right ACL this week, Ricardo Clark (concussion), and forward Omar Cummings (hamstring). Not much has changed since.

Cascio’s fate is sealed for the immediate future, Clark is once again listed as out and Cummings was on the training field on Friday but is listed as doubtful for the weekend.

Kinnear can choose to go back to the 4-4-2 and move his pieces around. But if his hands are tied again heading into the weekend, he could choose to stick with the formation curveball.

“Do I like playing the 4-3-3? Yeah, it helps you in some areas and hurts you in some areas,” he said. “It’s good to have players that are willing to adjust and understand that it’s best for the team at that particular time.”

Last week’s change was met with positive results. The attack was stronger and players were shifted into different spaces on the field.

In reality, those positives are attributed to getting players like Brad Davis, who returned from a right ankle sprain to notch an assist, back in the fold. However, getting the players different looks – and opponents something to think about – could help as the club continues to work out of a month-and-a-half long funk.

“For me, I enjoy the change sometimes,” Davis said after the Timbers match. “You find the ball in different spots, find the ball in the center of the field and can get in the box more and create a little more. There’re times out wide where you just don’t get the ball as much. It’s good for a little change here or there.”

While the change is something that is noticeable and provides a different look for players, the Dynamo – both players and coaches – are focused more on how the club is playing instead of where they line up.

But a club that can shift in and out of tactics and formations is a useful tool and the Dynamo feel they are that type of team.

“We can switch formation and go from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 to a four with a diamond and two with the same personnel,” said midfielder Giles Barnes. “You look around there’s not as many teams that can do that around the league.”

As for which Barnes prefers, his answer was simple and it is fair to say echoes his teammates feeling.

“Whichever formation we start winning with.”

Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.