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Earthquakes vs. Dynamo Preview: Three Questions

It’s the third match up of the 2017 season between the Earthquakes and Dynamo. Nerdy Gales and Derek Stowers of Dynamo Theory mull over the the MLS Cup playoff standings.

The push and shove of the playoff race...
Lyndsay Radnedge | Center Line Soccer

Center Line Soccer’s questions for Dynamo Theory:

1 – Center Line Soccer: How is everyone recovering from Hurricane Harvey, and how has the club been involved in getting life in Houston back to normal?

Dynamo Theory: In Houston we’ve begun naming our floods because they’ve caused so much devastation in recent years– there’s the Memorial Day flood of 2015, the Tax Day flood of 2016, and this year we have Harvey. Things will take time to get back to a place called normal as so many people have lost their homes, cars, possessions, and to the most unfortunate – lives. The recovery effort led by individuals, organizations, public figures, and government has shown this city’s biggest strength is its people. People have returned to work, school just started this week for the Houston Independent School District, the largest public school system in Texas, and things are beginning to look right again. Depending where you drive there are still streets lined with ripped up carpet, floorboards, furniture, and other belongings lost to the water, but you do see people making the best of a bad situation and giving and receiving help to those that need it.

For the Dynamo organization, they turned BBVA Compass Stadium into a donation center, which received so many donations, and volunteers that they were at capacity. Defender Dylan Remick was one of the volunteers there as he helped sort through the donations. This isn’t something unique to the Dynamo though as many of the city’s donation centers had to turn away volunteers because they weren’t needed showing that the desire to give back and help was at a surplus. The Dynamo’s home game last Saturday against the Colorado Rapids was their first game since Harvey hit and they honored several of the local news personalities and city officials that worked tirelessly to keep Houstonians informed about the storm, road conditions, reservoir releases, and much more. Forward Andrew Wenger and Assistant Coach Davy Arnaud both spoke briefly before the game about what they’ve seen and what it meant to be #HoustonStrong. $5 of every ticket sold to that game went to Hurricane Harvey relief. While we cannot replace the lives that were lost, we are beginning to do awesome things in Houston again and the storm, while devastating, showed this country how good the people in this city are.

2 – CLS: Houston is 2-0 in the first two of three match ups this season – do you envisage any changes to the Dynamo game plan for this match? Any notable absences this time?

DT: Last game against the Rapids was a tough one. The Dynamo have been one of the best teams in the league at home and we dropped the ball against the worst team in the league and we fielded a mostly full strength starting XI. The Rapids definitely didn’t help by sitting deep in their own half, but many of the characteristics of this Dynamo team were not on display. They were too conservative and were forced to play-make (not one of the club’s strengths at the moment). Passes moved right to left and left to right rather than through the defense. I think the Dynamo come out stronger and more aggressive against the Earthquakes. We aren’t the best team on the road – far, far from it, but we have been better in recent away games. Playing our brand is the key.

We are set to miss Alex Lima who leads our team in assists. His ability to take the ball and immediately transition to offense will be missed, but we could see our newest designated player, Tomas Martinez, take his place. If Martinez does not get the start then I’d expect either Oscar Boniek Garcia or Memo Rodriguez.

3 – CLS: It’s tight there in the middle of the Western Conference, but the club is already marketing playoff tickets – How are the fans feeling about the Dynamo playoff chances?

DT: It’s a roller coaster for us. We feel we can do anything from finishing 1st in the West to barely missing out. The West is a tight race right now so those feelings come with that territory. I think we’ll make it, possibly be near the top, but they’ll need some of their losses on the road to turn into draws and their draws into wins in order to ensure their place. That will need to begin with San Jose.

Dynamo Theory’s questions for Center Line Soccer:

1 – Dynamo Theory: The Earthquakes have struggled against the Dynamo this year as the ‘Quakes have been shutout 5-0. Both of those games were in Houston though and, like many MLS teams, San Jose has been far from perfect on the road. How will they adjust at home where they’ve been so good to the traveling Dynamo in the third matchup between these sides?

Center Line Soccer: Indeed! The Earthquakes will be looking to redress that balance in Saturday’s match up. The Quakes won’t need to adjust their home form, and will hopefully have left those road trip gremlins behind in Toronto. With a few injuries and absences to deal with, the squad will lineup with the three man back line (inconsistent) and the lone target forward up front – Ureña, with Wondolowski and Thompson right behind.

Hopefully the recent success Ureña had with Costa Rica (three goals in two games) will translate to Avaya Stadium. Many fans have been wondering why Wondolowski is not the lone target forward, but if the Dynamo defenders are focused on Ureña, maybe that frees up Wondo to do what he does best – poaching. Wondo’s still the Quakes leading scorer with eleven goals so far this season. On Saturday, the Quakes stalwart will surpass Ramiro Corrales when he starts his 251st game for San José.

In the meantime, Tarbell has been the recent starting goalie – David Bingham has been on the bench since August, and there’s uncertainty on any future for him in the last year of his contact. With Tarbell comes the inconsistency of a second year back up, but he has made some key saves (including a second goal of the week from the Toronto game) and his distribution is much better than that of Bingham. Tarbell is still a work in progress, evidenced by key mistakes in the Toronto game, but with lots of potential. So yes, expect “More Tarbell!”

2 – DT: With Anibal Godoy suspended due to yellow card accumulation, what kind of adjustments will we see from Chris Leitch?

CLS: It’s not a typical Quakes game unless Godoy gets a yellow – right? It’s probably the most frustrating aspects of his game and he still struggles with the oversensitive habits of MLS referees. Options in midfield include Cerén and Alashe, with Cerén appearing more regularly in defensive midfield this season.

Hopefully, with some tinkering, Leitch can make room for Vako in the starting line up – and as the DP who’s been anointed as the player around which the future Earthquakes will be built, it’s surprising we haven’t seen more of him since he was signed in June. Fans are eagerly anticipating more playing time for Vako – from what little we’ve seen he’s fast, tenacious and with a great touch. Leitch appears to have been loath to start Vako (starting rookie Jackson Yueill instead), so it’s possible he’s not completely match fit, but watch this space.

In terms of strategy, I agree with Chris Dangerfield that the Quakes will need to score early, as Houston appears to struggle when scored on first. While that seems a bit obvious, the one positive trait that the Earthquakes still have is the ability to rescue a game with their Goonies Never Say Die attitude – hackneyed but true – and that’s been one of the brighter spots of this season.

3 – DT: It’s been a bit start and stop for the Earthquakes with wins, losses, and draws happening for any given match. What does San Jose need to do to start getting consistent results to put them in a playoff position (a position they’re not too far away from either)?

CLS: *Scratches head* Play every game at home? Have Italian GM Jesse Fioranelli bring his Gaggia on road trips for pre-game espressos?

I really have no insightful answer for that problem – and the Earthquakes have still to solve it. The recent 3-0 road win over the Galaxy was not overly impressive – though Quakes fans all loved Wondo rattling the Riot Squad’s cage with his goal celebration. It appears to me that pass completion is not a forte of the Quakes this year, and their accuracy seems to be even worse on the road – though I have no stats to back up my gut feeling. And don’t get me started on dead ball situations – I think Wondo’s the only player that realizes you cannot be offside on a throw in.

Four of the remaining six Earthquakes games are at home, so that’s in the Earthquakes favor with such a tight race for the final spots in the Western Conference. A good run in what remains in the regular season is crucial to their playoff chances, and they cannot afford to drop points at home. Even with that -17 goal difference, don’t be too surprised to see them reach the MLS Cup playoffs, but they won’t go deep if they don’t improve their road form.

Given my observations above (re: Vako, Yueill and Tarbell) it may well be that Leitch and Fioranelli have already started implementing their plans for the 2018 season. Any success in 2017 will be a bonus.

Projected Lineup:

Andrew Tarbell, Florian Jungwirth, Victor Bernardez, Andres Imperiale, Jahmir Hyka, Fatai Alashe, Jackson Yueill, Shea Salinas, Chris Wondolowski, Tommy Thompson, Marco Ureña

Predicted outcome:

San Jose Earthquakes 2-0 Houston Dynamo