PREVIEWS FOR MLS WEEK 21 and USL WEEK 19:
Major League Soccer (MLS):
Houston Dynamo (9-7-5-32 points-3rd place) vs. Portland Timbers (8-8-6-30-points-4th place)-BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston-7:00 p.m. Saturday, July 29, 2017.
Match Preview from mlssoccer.com:
- Portland has never won in Houston
- AJ DeLaGarza’s comments after road win in DC last Saturday:
“We didn’t come into the season wanting to win one road game,” DeLaGarza said. “We still have a lot of work to do. We have [six] more road games. We have to continue to get points, and if we don’t win this weekend then what really did that win at D.C. do for us?”
- New playmaker Tomas Martinez, a classic Argentine No. 10 who officially joined up with the club on July 17, will not play this weekend as he gets acclimated to Houston and the club.
Preview article from the Oregonian including press conference with Timbers head coach Caleb Porter:
FC Dallas (9-3-7-34 points-1st place) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (8-8-3-27 points-6th place)-Toyota Park, Frisco-7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 29, 2017
Match Preview from mlssoccer.com:
- The teams have evenly split their last six MLS games, dating back to the beginning of the 2015 season (2-2-2). Dallas has won both of their home games by a 2-0 scoreline during this six-game stretch
- Head coach Oscar Pareja commenting on Christian Colman finally breaking through with 2 goals in Montreal last Saturday:
“It’s important for Cristian to score, we have been waiting for this moment,” Dallas coach Oscar Pareja said after the match that night. “As a kid, he worked hard. He has been trying to adapt to the league, trying to adapt to the culture of the group, and all what he has done is just kept working. And today the game rewarded him and I’m very happy for him.”
- FC Dallas get international players back, but will need to play with a makeshift back line again as outside backs Maynor Figueroa and Hernan Grana are suspended for yellow-card accumulation
Canadian National post article on Whitecaps Yordy Reyna:
FC Dallas will need to account for Peruvian midfielder and difference maker Yordy Reyna who may make his first start this season after returning from a broken foot injury suffered in the preseason:
United Soccer League (USL):
Phoenix Rising (6-6-4-22 points-11th place) vs. San Antonio FC (10-1-7-37 points-3rd place)- Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, Scottsdale, AZ-10:00 p.m. C.D.T.
- This will be the first time San Antonio FC faces legendary forward Didier Drogba
- Just over the halfway mark of the 2017 campaign, San Antonio FC matched its points total from last year in just 17 matches this season. The club’s 10-1-6 record 17 matches into the season added up to 36 points, which was the same amount that the team reached after their 30 matches in 2016
USL Stat-Pack on uslsoccer.com
Match Preview on the Phoenix Rising Website:
Portland Timbers 2 (T2) (1-15-3-6 points-last place) vs. Rio Grande Valley FC (RGV FC) (6-9-3-21 points-12th place)-Providence Park, Portland, OR-10:00 p.m. C.D.T.
- Rio Grande Valley FC starts a 3 game Pacific Northwest trip in Portland
- The Toros are 2-5-1 on the road this season and have been outscored 18-6
Match Preview on Portland T2 website:
Portland Timbers-2 FC Dallas (FCD)-0
PORT: Adi-32 (Blanco), 72 (Asprilla, Valeri) FCD: NONE
A tough road
FC Dallas was short-handed due to international call-ups and injuries. Beating the Timbers in Portland is hard enough when a full roster is present, extremely hard if you don’t and next to impossible if you fall behind. The game winner scored by Fernando Adi was unfortunate because it all began off a ricochet pass from Carlos Gruezo that allowed Timbers midfielder Sebastian Blanco to get behind the midfield and initiate the break that was ultimately finished by Adi. There was no luck involved in the second goal. The build up and execution left the FCD defense in shambles and allowed a wide open Adi to play with Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez before he tapped the ball in.
It could have been a lot worse
Shortly before Adi’s second goal put the game away, Diego Valeri scored a stunning goal that, if not disallowed because of a mythical hand ball, would have been in the running for MLS Goal of the Year. Unlike the Dynamo, who were run off the field in Portland during the second half in week 3, FCD overcame the obstacles to a great extent and accounted itself well in this game The best thing FCD can do is put this game in the rear view mirror and prepare for the midweek US Open Cup match against Tulsa in Dallas. Dallas is going through a tough patch now and the old adage about “long season” certainly does apply.
Match highlights are below. Valeri’s disallowed goal starts at 2:05:
There are only three matches being played in MLS this week because of the international break. FC Dallas will play one of those three on the road against Portland Timbers Saturday night. In addition to Matt Hedges and Kellyn Acosta who are away with the United States National team, FCD starters Maynor Figueroa and Tesho Akindele have also been called into national team camps and will miss Saturday’s match. Another reason MLS has no business playing during international windows.
Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas (FCD)
Providence Park-Portland, OR-9:30 p.m. CDT, Saturday, June 10, 2017
Record and Standings:
Portland Timbers: 6-5-3-21 points (Fourth place in the Western Conference)
FC Dallas: 6-2-5-23 points (Tied for second place in the Western Conference)
- Dallas has only won once in Portland, though the Timbers enter Saturday’s match on a five-game winless streak against FC Dallas (0-4-1)
- FCD midfielder Roland Lamah was named the Alcatel MLS Player of the Week due to his first-half hat trick against Real Salt Lake. In addition to Lamah, forward Maxi Urruti was also named to the MLS Team of the Week.
- This is the first of two back-to-back trips to the Pacific Northwest for FCD. After returning home for the midweek U.S. Open Cup match against Tulsa, FCD will play Vancouver Whitecaps away next weekend.
- With international call-ups and the injury to Walker Zimmerman, Oscar Pareja will need to cobble together a make-shift back line on Saturday night. Not something you prefer to do when facing two Portland attacking talents like Diego Valeri (8 goals) and Fernando Adi (6 goals). Portland started off the season like gangbusters, cooled off and, most recently, won their first game in six last weekend against San Jose in Portland
The game preview on mlssoccer.com is below:
Toronto FC-2 Houston Dynamo-0 (BMO Field-Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
HOU: None TOR: Altidore-16 (Edwards, Delgado), 32 (Giovinco)
I knew that the Houston and Toronto played in different countries, but it seemed fairly clear Friday night that the Dynamo also aren’t even on the same planet as Toronto FC. It was noted before the game that three Toronto players, Giovinco/Bradley/Altidore, earn more than the entire Dynamo roster. Friday nights first-half action demonstrated why this matters. Houston put Toronto on their heals to start off the night, but were unable to capitalize. All of the initial momentum broke down on one text-book Toronto FC attack in the 16th minute. After a nice build up, Giovinco and Marky Delgado combined to play send a perfect ball to an overlapping Rahim Edwards who then picked out an open Altidore, who calmly finished. Less than 15 minutes later these three combined again, with the goal coming after a perfect one-two between Giovinco and Altidore. At that point the game was effectively over.
Statistics Lie-As Frequently Happens
I suspect the Dynamo will try and convince themselves that they were in this game. They talked a lot after the game about how much better they were in the second half. This seems to be a common theme with all MLS teams that are losing by two goals on the road at half time. After all, they out-shot Toronto, had many more corners, had 3 times as many crosses and controlled possession in the second half. All meaningless. The Dynamo never had a chance after the 16th minute, mainly because they don’t have big game players who make plays when they need to be made….certainly on the road. Toronto FC has the highest payroll in MLS with big game players who deliver…Houston is near the bottom. If you are interested in competing for trophies, that is a meaningful statistic.
This Wasn’t A Game Houston Was Going To Win Anyway
Houston historically (even when it was winning MLS Cups) is a lousy road team. To expect a win last night was wishful thinking. The Dynamo talked last week about how they were going to Toronto to get all 3 points. Whistling past the graveyard stuff. This team is not in Toronto’s class yet and this was painfully obvious last night. 4-4-2 diamond, 4-3-3, the Dynamo formation doesn’t really matter against the best MLS teams and their stars, especially on the road. The team will be extremely fortunate to make the playoffs without summer transfer improvement (adding a difference maker) in the midfield. If maximum points are not picked up in the next two weeks at home, Houston may be effectively out of the playoff race after the next upcoming road-heavy schedule (5 out of 6 away between May 17 and June 17). Real money needs to be spent to acquire the kind of midfielder(s) that makes plays. If this spending is possible under the salary cap or whatever budget restrictions the ownership have set, I hope the team can stay in the hunt long enough to benefit from the improvements.
Ricardo has vanished
With the switch to the new formation, Ricardo Clark has disappeared. Despite not showing up on the injury report, he has been left off the last two game-day rosters. I wonder whether we are going to see the same thing happen to this Dynamo legend as happened to Brian Ching in his last season. The minutes may be few and far between. Whatever happens, Ricardo’s legacy is firmly established in Dynamo history.
Houston returns home Saturday to play Supporters Shield leaders Orlando City in their only meeting this year.
FC Dallas (FCD)-2 Portland Timbers-2 (Toyota Stadium-Frisco)
FCD: Urruti-61, Akindele-80 (Grana, Urruti) PORT: Adi-30 (Guzman), Blanco-71 (Adi, Powell)
Two very good teams
Portland and FC Dallas entered the game in the top two positions in the Western Conference. After this game it is hard to argue that they aren’t the two best teams in the Conference, and arguably in the league. FC Dallas is virtually unbeatable in Frisco, but it took everything they had to end the game level last night. Full credit to the team for coming back from two one goal deficits. The tying goal came from Tesho Akindele, who is making the most of his new starting role. Portland Timbers defender Alvas Powell slipped and fell and this allowed a wide-open Akindele to get on the end of a perfect Hernan Grana cross. Both sides had good chances to claim the full three points. In FCD’s case Kellyn Acosta was stymied by two excellent saves by reserve goalkeeper Jeff Attinella in the second half. Cristian Colman also had a golden close-in chance that he air-mailed over the bar, continuing his frustrating inability to convert. His 15+ minutes of action as a substitute resulted in a negative-3 Audi Index score for his efforts.
Champions League Hangover?
FC Dallas has played 11 games in all competitions in a little over two months. This doesn’t include the 6 early-February matches they played in Argentina. Conventional wisdom holds that every MLS team faces a post-Champions League hangover. It is remarkable that FCD, despite the early season fixture congestion, is still undefeated in MLS play. Dallas midfielder Kellyn Acosta alluded to the challenge of starting strong each week in post-game comments on MLSsoccer.com.
“[Head coach Oscar Pareja] came in at halftime and really got into us. We were flat. We weren’t keeping the ball, and we weren’t ourselves. In the second half we pressed a lot, and we had the inner belief that we were going to win this game. I think that really paid dividends for us to get the result.”
In the same article, correspondent Scott Sidwell noted that both Acosta and Pareja pointed to the busy early schedule and mentioned concentration and being mindful of the little things as partial answers to the slow starts. Lack of concentration certainly manifested itself on the first Portland goal when Fernando Adi was somehow unmarked, despite FCD having the best set of center defenders in MLS, and scored on a free header off a direct kick.
FCD travel to Salt Lake City on Saturday to play Real Salt Lake for the first time this season.
Toronto FC vs. Houston Dynamo
BMO Field-Toronto, Ontario, Canada-6:30 p.m. CDT, Friday, April 28, 2017
The Dynamo travel to Toronto to play its only 2017 match-up with Toronto FC Friday night.
- Toronto FC is off to a slow start after an MLS Cup finalist appearance last year. They are currently 2-1-4 and tied for 6th place in the Eastern Conference with 10 points.
- In addition to playing a road heavy early season schedule, part of the reason for the slow start is because Sebastian Giovinco had not shown his previous dominating form until last weekend. He broke out against Chicago last Saturday, scoring two goals and was recognized as MLS Player of the Week for his performance. His brace doubled the number of goals that Giovinco had previously scored this year. He was substituted late in the Chicago game and was none to happy about it…..blowing past his coach, Greg Vanney, and heading straight to the tunnel after his removal. Vanney said this week that all had been patched up.
- Trips to Canada have generally been a house of horrors for the Dynamo, except when they play in Toronto. Houston has a combined record of 0-10-1 in Montreal and Vancouver, but are 3-3-4 when playing in Toronto. The Dynamo has only lost once in the last 11 total regular season meetings between the two sides dating back to July 2011.
- The Dynamo are currently 3rd in the Western Conference with 13 points. The rub is that 5 of the 7 games Houston has played so far has been at BBVA Compass Stadium….all 13 points have been earned there. The team has lost its only two road games and Toronto FC doesn’t promise to be any easier. At least the match will not be on artificial turf, another historical set of horrors for the team.
- The Dynamo are definitely not a possession team. So far this year they have held only 43% of the possession, yet have the third most goals in the league (15). The Dynamo media staff calculated that the team has scored a league leading one goal per 18.24 minutes when the ball has been in its possession. Houston has also been very direct about doing it, as only 3 of the 15 goals have required more than 2 passes before they were scored. On the other hand, Toronto FC is more of a possession team and builds their attack through Giovinco, a very smart strategy. The contrasting attacking styles hopefully will make for an attractive game.
- It is interesting to note that Toronto FC’s salary budget is more than 4X the Dynamo’s. According to Corey Roepken at the Houston Chronicle, three Toronto players, Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, make more than the entire 27- man Houston roster.
FC Dallas (FCD) vs. Portland Timbers
Toyota Stadium-Frisco-7:00 p.m., Saturday, April 29, 2017
- For the second week in a row, FC Dallas plays the most intriguing game of the MLS weekend when Portland Timbers come to visit. Portland is currently in first place in the Western Conference, two points ahead of FCD, but the home side has two games in hand.
- Dallas is 6-1-2 all-time against Portland at Toyota Field and won all three 2016 matches played between the two teams. FCD, the last remaining undefeated team in the league, is off to its best start in franchise history. They have only given up 3 goals this year…2 of them on penalties.
- FC Dallas will have the good fortune of playing against a Timbers side missing midfielder Diego Valeri, arguably the best player in MLS this season. Nobody needs to tell the Houston Dynamo how good Valeri is, as he regularly torches them every time he plays, including a 4-2 victory earlier this year. Benjamin Baer from mlssoccer.com documented Valeri’s dominance by noting that he has contributed the most expected goals assisted of any player this season according to data provided by Opta. His chances created have amounted to an expected goals value of 3.42, a full goal more than any other player. His absence will create selection choices for Timbers coach Calen Porter, perhaps even a change away from the Timbers preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Portland starting goalkeeper Jake Gleeson also will miss the match.
- Valeri and forward Fernando Adi have each scored 5 goals this year to lead the team in scoring. Without Valeri, U.S. International Darlington Nagbe will be expected to help fill the void. His 5 goals are the most ever scored by a Timbers player against Dallas.
- Last Saturday, FCD head coach Oscar Pareja made a point of describing the key role Carlos Gruezo played in the victory over Sporting KC. This effort was recognized by the league, as Gruezo was named to the MLS Team of the Week. He truly was the engine against SKC, converting an outstanding 95% of his passes on Saturday.
Last season Major League Soccer partnered with Audi to provide a new index…The Audi Player Index…to provide a statistical based analysis of games on a real-time basis. During MLS matches, updated Audi Index statistics (and also post-game final results) can be found in the Scoreboard section of mlssoccer.com
The Audi Player Index is described on mlssoccer.com as an innovative player performance rating system that uses a data based model to record nearly every performance relevant action on the field. 88 different components, and up to 2,000 registered and evaluated player actions per match are live collected and evaluated according to three different criteria
- Players position in the system of play
- Location of the event on the field of play
- Match-specific importance of the action
Player data is collected using Opta, one of the world’s leading live, detailed sports data providers.
The most influential play, according to the scoring model of the Audi Player Index, is when a forward scores a game winning goal from outside the box. The player earns 327 points for the goal, plus 175 points for that goal as the match determinate. Conversely, the least influential play is when a goal keeper commits an error leading to a goal and 360 points are removed from his score.
There is no ceiling for how many points (positive or negative) a player can score per game . However, previous match play experience has demonstrated that the scores of the best player vary in a range between 500 and 1600 points. The highest single game score received in the 2016 MLS season, 2701, was by Ola Kamara of the Columbus Crew on May 28th vs. Real Salt Lake.
In Portland on Saturday night, the cumulative Audi Index score for the Timbers was 4518 vs. 3582 for the Dynamo. Four of the top ten highest Audi Index scores were generated by Houston Dynamo players: Adolfo Machado (861 points), Alberth Elis (583), Romell Quioto (472) and Alex Lima (438). The lowest Dynamo scores came from substitute Andrew Wenger (-25) (lowest rated match player total) and Tyler Deric (-13). The highest rated player in the match was Portland midfielder David Guzman who scored the game winning goal (1018).
In Frisco, also on Saturday night, the cumulative scores for FC Dallas were 3139 vs. 2931 for New England. Five of the top ten highest were generated by FC Dallas players: Maxi Urruti (997) (highest rated match player total), Matt Hedges (442), Maynor Figueroa (399), Kellyn Acosta (316) and Chris Seitz (277). The lowest scores were generated by Cristian Colman (-226) (lowest rated in match-maybe partially why he was substituted at halftime) and Roland Lamah (-82).
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.