Houston Dynamo vs. Orlando City SC
Saturday, May 6, 2017, 7:30 p.m. CT
BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, Texas
Thanks to a 6-2 start to 2017, red-hot Orlando City SC stand alone atop the MLS standings, tops on both a points and points-per-game basis. But their credentials are in the midst of a thorny road trip that will take them from the breezy shores of Lake Ontario to Houston’s muggy bayous within a week.
Kaká, Cyle Larin and the rest of the Lions started the trip with a visit Toronto FC on Wednesday, resulting in a 2-1 loss, then quickly pivoted south to face the Dynamo – owners of one of the league’s most explosive attacks and home form nearly as dominant as Orlando’s – on Saturday evening. It’s very much a trap game for OCSC and a challenge both mental and physical for coach Jason Kreis and his squad.
It figures to be an intriguing encounter and a significant barometer for two teams eager to climb into the MLS elite.
After several years of struggle, the Orange have dramatically resurrected themselves under new head coach Wilmer Cabrera, paced by Erick “Cubo” Torres and the rest of their talented, Latin American-flavored frontline.
Houston have been a far milder proposition on the road, where they are now 0-3 after last Friday’s 2-0 loss at TFC – but they’re undefeated (4-0-1) at their BBVA Compass Stadium home, with an impressive 13 goals scored (that’s a healthy average of 2.6 goals per game) on their own turf.
Most of that productivity has been reaped in a counterattack-happy 4-3-3 system that seeks to spring Torres and wide men Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto in transition. The flip side of all that fun? A leaky defense that ranks near the bottom of the league in goals conceded. So Cabrera has rolled out a 4-4-2 diamond midfield approach in recent weeks in an effort to tighten up his team’s shape and better control the tempo of matches.
Will the Dynamo open up the throttle against an opponent who’ll be playing on less than three days’ rest? Or will Cabrera fight fire with fire by mirroring Orlando, who themselves have adopted the diamond to good effect this season?
- Suspended: NONE
- Int’l Duty: NONE
- Injury Report: OUT – D George Malki (torn ACL); QUESTIONABLE – D Agus (left hamstring), M Ricardo Clark (left adductor injury)
Projected Starting XI (4-3-3): Joe Willis – A.J. DeLaGarza, Adolfo Machado, Leonardo, DaMarcus Beasley – Juan David Cabezas, Eric Alexander, Alex – Alberth Elis, Cubo Torres, Romell Quioto
Notes: Cubo had a rough night in Toronto last week, getting only two touches in the opposition penalty box, tied for his lowest total so far this year and well below his 5.25 per-game average (stat via Opta) … Cabrera has a wealth of options in terms of his strike force, with Mauro Manotas and Andrew Wenger also pushing for minutes … Goalkeeper Joe Willis has started Houston’s last three games after Tyler Deric began the season as the starter.
Orlando City SC
The Lions are sitting pretty at the moment. Orlando occupy first place in both the Eastern Conference and overall league standings and are owners of the third-best defensive record in MLS. Meanwhile Kaká just made a smashing return from the serious hamstring injury that sidelined him in the season opener, scoring in Saturday’s confident 2-0 defeat of Colorado and narrowing TFC's lead on Wednesday with another goal.
But City have benefited from a heavy early slate of home matches at their glittering new downtown stadium, with three away games to date – one of which was an underwhelming loss at Columbus, the other Wednesday's loss in Toronto. So the Florida side will undergo some important tests in the coming weeks that should illuminate just how good they are.
Orlando play seven games this month, four of them on the road and five of them against teams currently in the top half of the standings. Will Kreis stick with the same approach that’s worked so far? His team has often conceded the possession battle, soaking up pressure and hitting with direct attacks ramping through the dangerous Cyle Larin-Carlos Rivas strike duo.
It’s worked well, though it’s relied upon lots of solid saves from goalkeeper Joe Bendik and hard defending work all around, anchored by the commanding presence of Jonathan Spector at the heart of the backline. If the Lions have any tricks stashed up their sleeves, we’re likely to see them in the coming weeks.
- Suspended: NONE
- Int’l Duty: NONE
- Injury Report: OUT – D - Kevin Alston (knee), D Rafael Ramos (hamstring)
Projected Starting XI (4-4-2, diamond): GK: Joe Bendik — Scott Sutter, Tommy Redding, Jonathan Spector, Donny Toia — Antonio Nocerino, Will Johnson, Cristian Higuita, Giles Barnes — Carlos Rivas, Cyle Larin
Notes: Larin has scored six goals in Orlando's first seven games, which ties for second in the league – one behind Houston's Cubo Torres – and also ranks fourth overall in the Audi Player Index.
- Overall: Houston 0 wins (0 goals), Orlando 1 win (1 goal), 1 draw
- At Houston: Houston 0 wins (0 goals), Orlando 1 win (1 goal)
Referee: Sorin Stoica
Assistant Referees: Mike Rottersman, Jeff Muschik
Fourth Official: Alejandro Mariscal