Mixed results this past weekend for the Texas-based MLS teams. The good news came from Frisco when FC Dallas (FCD) came back from an early deficit to defeat the New England Revolution (NE) 2-1 in the home opener. In their first road trip, the Houston Dynamo unfortunately fell 4-2 in Portland to an outstanding Timbers side.
FCD seemed to start out a little sluggish, perhaps a hangover from the midweek victory against Pachuca, and fell behind early when Plano-native Lee Nguyen, playing in front of family and friends, converted a 10th minute penalty. The penalty opportunity arose when forward Cristian Colman grabbed NE’s new Slovenian center back Antonio Mlinar Delamea on the preceding corner kick. Paul Mariner, the NE broadcaster and former Assistant Coach, used “pure laziness” during the replay to describe Colman’s attempt at defending the corner. NE continued to control play for the first 70 minutes and FCD was lucky not to be playing short handed after a very aggressive foul from Maynor Figueroa on NE’s Kai Kamara early in the second half. Figueroa was only issued a yellow card, but replays showed that he very easily could have been ejected. Then it was Maxi Urutti’s turn to take over the game as he scored twice in six minutes to erase the deficit and FCD eventually won the match 2-1.
Urruti has certainly made a name for himself in the early part of this season, but the tempo of the match seemed to shift with the introduction of midfielder Michael Barrios at halftime. NE had a difficult time accounting for his speed and it was his exquisite first touch on a long diagonal ball from Maynor Figueroa that directly led to the opportunity that Urruti finished. Urruti then scored the deciding goal six minutes later when he succeeded in stripping the ball from NE’s defender Benjamin Angoua and then hit a rocket over goalkeeper’s Cody Cropper’s head at the near post. Check out the video and take the opportunity to vote for Maxi for Goal of the Week at mls.com
FCD has now won two MLS regular season games within a few days after mid-week CONCACAF Champions League fixtures this season. Full credit to Oscar Pareja and the team for the resilience they demonstrated this past weekend after falling behind early on Saturday.
The Houston Dynamo weren’t so fortunate. The Dynamo took a surprising 2-1 halftime lead into the locker room against the Portland Timbers on the heels of a penalty from “Cubo” Torres and a breathtaking give-and-go counter from Rommel Quioto off a feed from Alberth Elis. These were the 3rd goals of the young season for both Cubo and Quioto. Unfortunately the Timbers, showing the quality that makes them early MLS contenders, came out and basically ran the Dynamo off the field in the second half, scoring 3 unanswered goals to complete the 4-2 victory. The Dynamo played lively and aggressively in the first half and outshot the Timbers 11-4. The second half was a completely different story. The Dynamo came out and pulled into a shell…like it was the 85th minute instead of the beginning of the half. It was a similar strategy to the one they seemed to adopt in the season opener against Seattle, which was successful. They had a two goal lead and were playing at home in that one however. How Wilmer Cabrera could feel that they could hold off Portland for 45 minutes on the road is a complete mystery. In response to the bunker strategy, the Timbers basically had both of their outside backs stationed right next to the Dynamo penalty area and the ball rarely left the Dynamo side of the field. The end result of this strategy was Portland scoring twice in the first 21 minutes of the half. First, when Diego Valeri slid past Dynamo holding midfielder Juan David Cabezas and found a gap on the back line to convert an excellent cross from Zarek Valentin. Second, when Timber holding midfielder David Guzman took a poor clearing header from Alfredo Machado and worked a nice one-two with Darlington Nagbe to round goalkeeper Tyler Deric and score the game winner. Wilmer Cabrera then substituted Boniek Garcia and Andrew Wenger, two more conventional midfielders, to try and break down the Timbers. Unfortunately, this did not pay off (the Dynamo had a grand total of one shot in the second half) and eventually the Timbers put the game away when Fernando Adi converted on a counterattack for the 4-2 final victory. The Dynamo passing map for the second half prior to the 74th minute below (from the Twitter account of Drew J. Olsen of American Soccer Analysis) clearly demonstrates how feeble the Dynamo attack was in the second half (green lines are competed passes, red lines are incomplete, blue are assists and yellow are passes that lead to a shot)
This was a game the Dynamo would have had to play perfectly to win. The Timbers are 15 months removed from winning MLS Cup 2015 and, despite not making the playoffs last year, still retain the difference makers who were the catalysts for this championship run. The Dynamo do not have the same level of talent in the midfield to compete with the likes of Valeri and Nagbe and the jury is still out, at least for me, on how effective the center defensive core of Cabezas, Leonardo and Machado will be able to cope with the pressure that will be placed on them because of Wilmer Cabrera’s offensive high press counterattacking style. This group has only played together for two games, so this will continue to be a work in progress.
Houston and FCD now have a week off for the international break. MLS play resumes for the Dynamo on Saturday, April 1 against New York Red Bulls. FCD’s next match, because of MLS regular season rescheduling, will take place in Pachuca, Mexico on Tuesday April 4 in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal.