Once Major League Soccer announced the 2018 schedule, you probably dove in right away and started breaking it down in excruciating detail, circling the biggest matchups and looking for the most favorable and most difficult stretches of games. That’s OK – you aren’t the only one. We reached out to four folks who get paid to do that and asked them for their opinions on the schedule here:
What was the first thing that jumped out at you when you looked at the schedule for the Dynamo?
Corey Roepken – Dynamo & Dash beat writer, Houston Chronicle: The October slate is a monster. So much can change in the next 10 months, but it is hard to believe Los Angeles FC and Seattle will not be contenders at that point. The Galaxy may have been down in 2017, but it is unlikely they are not significantly better in 2018. Adding points in those last four games will be difficult.
Lester Gretsch – Dynamo Spanish Radio Game Analyst, Univision Radio 1010 AM: The fact that three of the first four games and half of the first 10 games of the season are at home. Given the team’s success at BBVA Compass Stadium in 2017 and relatively consistent form away from home at the end of last season, the Dynamo could position themselves as an early frontrunner in the Western Conference if results go their way.
Jeremy Branham – Dynamo English Radio Play By Play, SportsRadio 610: The first thing that stood out to me was the MLS scheduling the Dynamo and FC Dallas for each team’s extra Western Conference match meaning the Texas Derby will again have three matches in a season. I think it’s good for the league and both clubs’ Supporters that the rivalry plays as many matches as possible, and this could be the final season the Texas Derby has three matches with Nashville coming into the league in either 2019 or 2020. I also like that the teams will place twice in a week in last August/early September; it will give a playoff-like, aggregate feel for the last two legs of the Derby.
Eddie Robinson – Dynamo TV Game Analyst, KUBE 57: Maybe because I’m old school, but the first thing that jumped out at me is the back-toback games against FC Dallas to decide the ownership of El Capitán. Also, that’s the point in the season where you start to see what teams in 5th to 8th place in conference need to do to make playoffs, so for me, it’s six points that could absolutely lift the Dynamo toward the annual playoff push, and keep the cannon in its home.
What stretch of games do you think is the most important for the Dynamo in 2018?
Roepken: It is imperative for the Dynamo to get off to another strong start. Having three of their first four games at home magnifies that. Wilmer Cabrera focused on home form in his first season. If the Dynamo take a step back in that aspect during 2018, it could quickly sour the long-term hopes.
Gretsch: All games are clearly important, but for me the last 10 games are perhaps a bit more so. When you play in a conference as compact and competitive as the West, a solid end to the season will work in your favor when you’re jockeying for playoff position in September/October (which most teams are at that time of year). Oh, and did I mention that nine of those last 10 games are against Western Conference teams?
Branham: The biggest stretch of the season for the Dynamo comes in the three hottest months on the schedule; June, July and August. Aside from the atmosphere at BBVA Compass Stadium, the biggest home field advantage in Houston is the heat and the humidity. Opposing players are not accustomed and do not like playing in Houston. The Dynamo catch a break with eight of their 13 matches in those three months coming at home, seven of which are against Western Conference foes. The Houston heat and humidity could lead to a lot of summer points for the Dynamo.
Robinson: Three of the first four at home. You have to win those games and get some early season momentum going. And the one road game is at DC United, so you couldn’t really ask for a better opportunity to turn around your poor road form from last season. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think the Dynamo could have 8-10 points after these four to start the season, which would see them up near the top of the conference.
Other than Opening Day, which we already knew about, which home game are you most looking forward to seeing this year, and why?
Roepken: Toronto FC on April 21. If the Dynamo want to get back to winning MLS Cup titles, it is important to prove they can compete with the reigning champions.
Gretsch: The FC Dallas home-and-home series at the end of August and beginning of September is intriguing because of a) the rivalry that exists between both teams and, b) the postseason implications these games may have. Secondly, LAFC’s first-ever visit to Houston on July 3 will also be interesting. It will help us get a glimpse on how well the team has come together and how well Carlos Vela has adapted to MLS up to that point.
Branham: There are a lot of intriguing storylines for many of the Dynamo home matches. The Western Conference Final rematch against Seattle is one I had hoped would be earlier in the year; instead those matches won’t happen until the final month of the season. Since that home match is late in the year, I’m most looking forward to the April 21st match against Toronto. An afternoon affair against Toronto, the defending MLS Cup winner, with the star power they possess will be a match a lot of fans should have circled.
Robinson: Toronto in April. Shame it’s not a little further in the schedule, with some real heat and humidity in the air! But you always look forward to measuring yourself against the champs.
What is the biggest question that the 2018 schedule poses for the Dynamo?
Roepken: Will they figure out how to add points in road games sooner than they did last season? Having three of four home games in March is nice, but seven of the next 10 games after that are on the road. If they don't start grinding out road points early, they could be buried by early June.
Gretsch: Can the team consistently play well and win on the road? You can’t rely on playing well and winning at home all the time to make the postseason (despite what happened in 2017). Until this issue is addressed, that is the biggest question surrounding this team.
Branham: Getting points on the road was an area the Dynamo struggled with last season. They finished the regular season much better on the road than they started, and of course the road win at Providence Park against Portland to advance to the conference finals were all good signs the Dynamo will be a better road team in 2018. It’s a point of emphasis that Wilmer Cabrera has already addressed, and I expect the Dynamo to take a step forward in that area. The best test in this regard for the Dynamo will come in the final month of the season as the Dynamo close with three of their last four matches on the road against conference opponents. As the club battles for positioning in the Western Conference table in the final month, road points will be imperative.
Robinson: Depth. They still need some players to fill some gaps. Should the Dynamo get to the end of the season and find themselves fighting for a playoff spot, they could be in some trouble if they run into a string of injuries or suspensions. I don’t think any team in the league would want to end the season with the Dynamo’s final 4 games, when needing to gain spots in the standings. That’s a brutal finish.
OK, here’s the biggie: What is your (way too early) prediction for the team’s record this season?
Roepken: 13-9-12. As of early January, the team has not done much to add to the roster it had last season. It's fair to suggest they could be better with a full season of comfort under Wilmer Cabrera's leadership, but it's also fair to suggest the rest of the league will have a better idea of how to play against it. All of that levels out, and the Dynamo should be about what they were last year.
Gretsch: 14-10-10. I think the Dynamo have the potential to make it to the postseason for the second-straight season. How deep they go is anyone’s guess at this point.
Branham: 15-11-8. The 53 points for the Dynamo would be a three point improvement over last year. While I think the Western Conference will be a lot better, I think the Dynamo will be a much better road team and the young players will continue to develop as the Dynamo head to the postseason for the second season in a row.
Robinson: I don’t think it’s possible to make an educated guess on the Dynamo’s record or standing in the conference at the end of the season because there are still too many questions with the roster. Ask me again at the end of February! (Editor’s note: We’re putting Eddie down for 34-0-0, in that case)
These journalists’ opinions are their own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Houston Dynamo.