For the second straight weekend, all eyes will be on the battle for the center of the pitch as the Houston Dynamo host the Montreal Impact.
Last week, the pair of Adam Moffat and Ricardo Clark locked down central midfield while helping the Dynamo to a 2-0 victory over the New England Revolution. On Saturday, the task will be putting the clamps on Montreal’s dangerous duo of Felipe Martins and Patrice Bernier as the Dynamo look to continue their home dominance and push to the playoffs (7:30 pm CT).
“It’s such an important part of the game,” head coach Dominic Kinnear said on Friday of central midfield. “You always want to have some type of control over it. Whether it’s physical control or technical control, if you can get both of those, it makes for a better day for your team.
“Adam and Ricardo, tomorrow, have to do the same type of effort they brought against New England,” the Dynamo boss continued. “Closing things down, winning first balls, getting around second balls and playing out and hopefully breaking forward. It’s an interesting matchup and one that our guys have to be completely on their toes with concentration and awareness to do well.”
While the Dynamo pair dominated against New England, this weekend, the challenge will be to keep Bernier and Felipe from punishing them. So while the Dynamo duo will be looking to shut down channels of attacks, they will also have an eye towards making sure they do not give away any unnecessary opportunities.
“That’s a big part of the game plan,” Clark said. “Keeping the balance in there and making sure somebody’s always holding down the midfield because we don’t want any counterattacks, especially against a team like this with a pretty crafty midfielder [in Felipe]. On the offensive side, we want to make good passes, good decisions and keep the ball moving.”
Playing smart with the ball is one aspect, but being smart off the ball is another against an Impact team that takes its physical cues from head coach Jesse Marsch, no stranger to the physical game during his playing days.
“Obviously you never want to do something that’s going to hurt the team,” said Moffat, who drew a red card in Montreal earlier this season. “We’ll be smart about it because this is the time of year when you do get in trouble that way, or if you lose your head a little bit, it can take away from the game.”
With just three games left and the playoffs in the balance, the Dynamo know what is on the line Saturday. Keeping the Impact’s central duo in the pocket of Moffat and Clark will go a long way to ensuring the result the Dynamo want.
“I think they’re busy guys in the midfield, so it’s going to be important for me and Adam to contain them and keep them limited in the game,” Clark said. “That’s what’s made us successful at home, especially, so we want to keep that as part of the game plan.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.