As the Houston Dynamo prepare to take on Columbus Crew SC this Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium (7:30 p.m. CT, TICKETS), take some time to familiarize yourself with the opponent. Crew SC reached the 2015 MLS Cup final but missed out on the playoffs in 2016. Columbus started 2017 at home with a 1-1 draw against the Chicago Fire.
What is clear about Gregg Berhalter their manager is that he is true to his "purpose of play." What is that you ask? A possession-based game that builds out of the back and involves their wingbacks getting forward.
One to keep an eye on is Harrison Afful, who has earned 65 caps and played in a World Cup and African Nations Cup with Ghana and loves to get forward from the right back position. This will be a territory war out wide with the Dynamo.
Of course they will want to play through their playmaker Federico Higuain, who is a wonderful conductor of their attack. He draws a lot of attention and his play in combination with Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay and Ola Kamara creates danger in the final third. They have added depth in midfield in with Ghanaian Mohammed Abu, who started alongside Will Trapp and was replaced after 75 minutes by Brazilian youngster Artur last weekend against Chicago.
It is too early to tell, but on paper it is experience that is being added to a backline that allowed 58 goals in 2016, with Designated Player center back Jonathan Mensah—who some might remember being with Ghana in the 2014 World Cup against the U.S. Jukka Raitala is a Finnish international who has spent time in Europe (Heerenveen, Osasuna) and played outside back against Chicago in the opener. Nicolai Naess from Norway (Staebek) partnered with Mensah at center back. Crew SC and Berhalter expecting a lot out of these new defenders.
Who imposes their "purpose of play" with more authority? Whichever group of players executes the ideas of their manager. The two managers know how they want to play and both are growing their systems by the day and the week through training and real MLS matches.
A pressing game against a possession-oriented game that includes building from their back four seems to lead us to a very interesting matchup. Keep an eye on the wide game, the Dynamo will try to get that going again through Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis, while Crew SC will want to take advantage of the space behind those high pressing Dynamo wingers.
With seven out of 10 at home to start 2017, the Dynamo have a wonderful opportunity to bank points while they still may be a bit of an unknown element.