As far as David Horst is concerned, the Houston Dynamo back line was far too exposed by the runs of Montreal Impact forward Andrew Wenger two weeks ago. Wenger was able to split the Dynamo's new back four combination and provide a threat with his runs.
Two weeks of time to work on the issue, Houston’s back line will get its stiffest test to date as the club makes their first road trip of the year to face a diverse forward line replete with a crafty target man in Kenny Miller and speed merchants Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh.
For the Dynamo, closing those gaps will be important in shutting down the Whitecaps dynamic front line and leaving Vancouver with a result.
“They’re such a dangerous team when they have space in front,” said goalkeeper Tally Hall. “They become one of the best teams in the league if you give them space. We have to apply early pressure. It means we have to get up there because we can’t let them turn and run at us.”
Looking back at their 1-0 win over the Impact, Houston’s back line was split on several occasions as Wenger and the Montreal midfield looked to pick passes over the top. Thanks to some retreat defending and smart play in goal by both Hall and Kofi Sarkodie, Houston remained unscathed on the season.
Having had a bye week last week, Houston have had plenty of time to finetune their communication and closing those gaps in the back.
“We’ve had two weeks to work on it and we’ve played quite a bit, Jermaine [Taylor] and I, and I think we’ve come to an understanding, the back four as well,” Horst said. “It’s a lot of communication and passing [the Whitecaps' attackers] off between me and Kofi or me and Jermaine. It’s not just the back four. It’s going to be the whole team limiting space all over the field.”
That communication will be important if Houston wants to limit the Whitecaps space, something Vancouver, and specifically Mattocks, use to punish teams.
“The tough part with Mattocks is he is going to come and try and bring you in because he knows he’ll have space he can run into,” said Sarkodie, who played with Mattocks at the University of Akron. “Really, if Mattocks has the ball in front of us it’s OK as long as our backline’s together. The reality is if we do that, we put ourselves in a good position.”
Part of being in that good position is the success of Houston’s attack. With an attack that is clicking led by Will Bruin and Boniek García, Houston’s team as a whole is humming. Its attack could get an added boost Saturday as Tony Cascio told MLSsoccer.com Friday that he’s in a “good place” and feels like he can make his return after two weeks out with a knee sprain.
While goals win games, keeping the ball and Whitecaps forwards in front of them could be the difference between a happy trip home and Houston’s first blemish of the season.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.