The Portland Timbers are back in action this evening, taking on one of the few other teams with a perfect record through two weeks: the Houston Dynamo. To get the low down on last year’s last place finishers in the West, we turned to Derek Stowers of our sister site, Dynamo Theory to get our questions answered.
Erick "Cubo" Torres went two years without scoring and looked like he would be a bust for the Dynamo after 2016, but now he has started the season with the sort of performances that had fans and pundits singing his praises with Chivas USA. What is behind this return to form for Cubo and just how sustainable is it?
The short answer to your question is that it’s because of new Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera who had coached Cubo during his breakout year with Chivas USA. The long answer is multifaceted. First, Cabrera loves this kid and benched Mauro Manotas, who had been one of the very few bright spots of last season, in favor of the player he’s worked with before. He’s rebuilt Cubo’s confidence and has put together a system that works well with his skill set. That system is all about pace on the wings and that can draw some attention from defenders and allows Cubo to find space away from his defenders from time to time.
Cubo himself has transformed though this season and a lot of the praise shouldn’t belong to the coach who knows him well. Cubo has lost some weight this offseason thanks to a new diet and is scoring goals that are outside his typical repertoire. He’s traditionally looked at as a poacher type striker, but his two goals this season have come from a free kick and a curler from distance. He’s been practicing and it shows.
As far as sustainability goes, I think it depends on how sustainable the way the team is playing is. Last season the Dynamo got off to a great start offensively, but Owen Coyle decided to pump the brakes on that after some vulnerabilities defensively were discovered. Should Cabrera find his defense suddenly failing, it could lead to offensive dry spells. However, I don’t see that happening as Cabrera seems to be the type of coach that sticks with an approach – for better or worse, and that’s something that will benefit Cubo in the long run.
While it is the attack that has been getting the attention in Houston, the Dynamo's defense has also started the season off strong, giving up only two goals through two games -- one of which was clearly offside. What has changed along the back line from last year in personnel or approach, and how important is a steady back line to the Dynamo's new style of play?
This is an entirely different back line with the exception of DaMarcus Beasley. We’ve added lots of experience with Leonardo and A. J. DeLaGarza coming in from a very successful LA Galaxy side and we’ve added center back Adolfo Machado who has an extensive showing with the Panamanian National Team. Beasley and DeLaGarza specifically help the style of play as they’re both players that like to push into the offense which can overwhelm some defenses. Leonardo and Machado are more “enforcer” type of center backs which can intimidate some attackers as they’re more than ready to get physical.
The style of play also aids the defense as the high pressing line creates turnovers in favorable positions of the field and forces errant passes by opponents. These are great for the defense as it happens away from goal which takes some pressure off their responsibilities. The combination of experience and style has helped immensely, but there are still some organizational concerns that need to be ironed out as the team continues this season. Against Columbus Crew SC there were a few easy goals that Crew SC could have taken advantage of and many others that could have been scored had it not been for the heroics of goalkeeper Tyler Deric. Essentially, the team has started off very well early and will continue to become more cohesive as a unit as the season continues.
Every year in MLS it seems like at least one club makes a jump from last place in their conference up into contention for silverware. Last year it was the Colorado Rapids, but will the Dynamo be able to make a move this year? Why?
This is so very difficult to answer because it’s still early on. As I noted earlier, last season fans thought we could contend for silverware after our 5-0 thrashing of rivals FC Dallas, but we went on to finish last place in the conference. The Western Conference is so very competitive with quality teams missing out every season. That being said, I originally predicted the Dynamo to contend for the 5th or 6th spot and I stand by that (while hoping we finish higher up). In the playoffs, anything can happen and if we get there I like our chances given how we’ve played in our opening two games. The team can contend because it can score goals and the way that it pressures teams in their own half keeps the ball away from their own goal. It’s not a perfect style as we are bound to surrender possession stats, but we’ve got some hungry forwards starting and a great one in Mauro Manotas on the bench who are more than ready to put the ball passed opposing goalkeepers.
Projected Lineup: (4-3-3): Tyler Deric; DaMarcus Beasley, Leonardo, Adolfo Machado, A. J. DeLaGarza; Alex Lima, Juan David Cabezas, Ricardo Clark; Romell Quioto, Erick Torres, Alberth Elis