The Houston Dynamo Woes
It’s fair to say that the Houston Dynamo hasn’t had the season that they wanted to. Despite Houston making it all the way to U.S. Open Cup Final, the team failed to repeat last years success in the regular season. As a result, they will be watching the playoffs from the comfort of home. Given the optimism coming into this season and the fact that the Dynamo only have one more meaningful game this season, it’s worth asking: What happened?
When Did It All Go Wrong?
First, it’s important to note that as recently as July Houston was still in the playoff race and playing fairly well. Despite being plagued by persistent injuries to key players there was still hope for a playoff run. Especially, when the Dynamo showed real resilience coming back to tie LAFC in last minutes of the second half, and after a strong showing against Minnesota United, Houston seemed to be on the rise. But, after that match, the wheels started to come off as the Dynamo went 10 straight matches winless. A late-season collapse that looked more like a complete meltdown. Second-half collapses are more a symptom and less of a diagnosis. So let’s talk about the hot take that seemingly everyone has: the Dynamo defense sucks.
A Lackluster And Overblamed Defense
Every Dynamo fan and their mother will tell you that the Houston defense this year was bad. Which, like most things, has varying degrees of truth in it. It’s true that Houston only managed four clean sheets out of their 27 games played, and that two of those came against a bad (pre-Kellyn Acosta) Colorado Rapids side. These struggles have been attributed by many to the lack of a solid replacement for the injured A.J. De La Garza. This is something the Dynamo front office chose not to remedy on the transfer market. With 42 goals allowed on the season, the Dynamo are sitting comfortably middle of the pack in MLS. It’s also worth noting that Houston hasn’t lost by more than two goals all season which suggests that goals aren’t exactly raining into Houston’s goal. The real crippling issue of the season has been the Dynamo’s inability to win close games. Out of 12 matches Houston has played with a goal margin of one, the boys in orange have only managed two wins. But the goal margin at the end of the game can’t solely be blamed on the keeper or the defense, it’s also a matter of scoring goals. Something that hasn’t been as easy as some like to believe.
The Offensive Struggles
Oftentimes the first thing that you’ll hear about the Dynamo is how fun it can be to watch the attacking trident of Manotas, Elis, and Quioto do their work. While that’s been true throughout 2018, the offense hasn’t been able to live up to Houston’s 2017 offensive standard. The loss of Erick Torres, who broke the Dynamo’s single-season goal record in 2017 with 14, to Tijuana in Liga MX has certainly been a part of that. The expectation from the Dynamo after Torres moved on seemed to be that Manotas, Quioto, and Elis would all take steps forward and hopefully, fill those record-breaking shooting boots. While Manotas has done well at shifting into more of a target man and Quioto has become a more creative presence, Elis hasn’t really taken the step forward. To his credit, Elis has been better at setting up goal-scoring opportunities, but he hasn’t evolved very much as goal scoring threat. In fact, he’s already taken 17 more shots than he did last season with the same 10 goals to show for it. Which isn’t an omen for all future performances, but it’s not what the Dynamo needed to make up the difference in goals.
Mediocrity On High
In the end, different kinds of people point to the flaws that bother them the most. Fans on Twitter and Reddit have incessantly blamed the front office for not investing in the team and Wilmer Cabrera for not finding a suitable replacement for De La Garza or for his general tactical plan. Pundits have said the defense is the issue, I even heard a guest on MLS.com make the presumptuous claim that Houston lacks a “winning mentality”. The truth is that there isn’t one easy fix to the issue that sunk the Dynamo this season. Rather, there’s a veritable cornucopia of weaknesses and flaws that stacked up on bad luck to create a season that was incredible in its mediocrity.
(All stats courtesy of houstondynamo.com, soccerstats.com, and whoscored.com)