Danny Cruz, one of this season's stand-out players will have to step up even more if the Dynamo want to make the play-offs.
In this edition of Three Questions, tough questions are asked about the Houston Dynamo's play-off potential, lack of scoring and the team's goalkeeping future.
The last time we ran a Three Questions feature, Matthew Roth of SB Nation's Once A Metro blog and I discussed Thierry Henry's upcoming MLS debut and what was happening with each writer's preferred squad. Today's edition is a solo run with just me answering some questions I received from Dynamo fans, SB Nation readers and those in the Twitterverse.
All three of the questions posed could very well require full-length and well-researched articles of their own (and those articles will likely be written and shared in the near future), but for today purposes I will try to answer the questions as thorough and efficiently as possible.
1. Will the Dynamo make the playoffs?
The Dynamo currently sit in 7th place in the Western Conference with 20 points (in 19 games played), just two ahead of last place Chivas USA. At the top of the conference reign the LA Galaxy with 40 points (with 19 games played). Houston currently are sitting on a 5-9-5 record and are winless in their last nine games.
Current form and results don't bode well for the Dynamo, especially when looking at what the schedule still has in store for the struggling team. With 11 games left, Houston still have to play the Revolution (twice), Kansas City Wizards, Chicago Fire, Philadelphia Union, D.C. United and Toronto FC of the Eastern Conference, and in the Western Conference the Colorado Rapids, San Jose Earthquakes (twice) and the Seattle Sounders. Unfortunately for the Dynamo, most of their remaining games come against Eastern Conference opposition (seven total) so the team will be reliant on other Western teams to nick points off each other.
The remaining schedule isn't all bad, though. The Eastern Conference is not as strong as the Western Conference and the Revolution, Wizards, Fire, Union and especially D.C. United are all beatable teams. That's not to say that any of those games will be easy, but all of them are prime opportunities to take all three points.
Houston's Western Conference games are all against opponents higher than them in the table, and all are against teams that will give the Dynamo trouble. Houston have already played and drawn against the Rapids, lost to the Sounders and have yet to play against a much-improved San Jose. With all of these teams vying for playoff spots, players will be increasing their games and intensity, making things harder on Houston.
All in all it is a pretty gloomy situation for the Dynamo. But, if we want to be honest with ourselves, barring an unforeseen and substantial run, this will be the first year the Dynamo do not make the playoffs in their history.
2. Why haven't there been more goals?
The answer to this question is both a long one and a short one. But first, let's look at the stats.
In 19 games, the Dynamo have managed to score only 23 goals, meaning that the squad is only averaging 1.210 goals per game (GPG). Of those 23 goals, eight have come from the forwards, twelve from the midfield and three from defenders. So, the midfield is outscoring the forwards at a rate of 1.5 goals for each of the forwards' goals. On a goals per game basis, this means the midfield is scoring 0.632 GPG versus the forwards' 0.242 GPG average.
This yields a few very interesting issues for the Dynamo. First, why aren't the forwards scoring more goals? Well, there are a few reasons for this, but the best answer is because the midfield has changed so much over the last two seasons. Ahead of the 2009 season, Dwayne De Rosario, who played at as a center-attacking midfielder, left Houston to return to his native Canada. De Rosario was a terrific player who had a knack for scoring goals while also being a link between players in the middle of the field. When he wasn't hitting the back of the net he was quick to find others who could and would. Many fans were nervous following De Ro's departure, but Stuart Holden was quick to step up and fill his boots. In fact, Holden did this almost too well and, as a result of his quick success, was asked to play for Bolton Wanderers of the English Premier League.
The departure of Holden (accompanied with Ricardo Clark also leaving) left a massive gap in the middle of Houston's line-up. In two seasons, the team had lost three of its most important midfielders and was forced to rebuild its midfield from the ground-up. Utility player Geoff Cameron was called up from the defense and asked to play in the center-attacking role and the Dynamo looked at Jamaican-international Lovel Palmer to fill in behind him at the center-defensive move. Both fans and the coaching staff knew that this was going to be a tough transition and that it would take time to gel, but gel it did and results were produced. No one, however, was able to predict that Cameron would get hurt and miss months of play, which happened when he ruptured his PCL against the Chicago Fire in April.
Cameron's injury meant that the Dynamo would have to fill the void by starting players out of position, testing both the players' abilities and the depth of the squad. Results were tough to come by as players rotated in and out due to injuries, suspensions and line-up adjustments, and no real team-wide chemistry was ever created.
The changes in the midfield and lack of a true center-attacking midfielder resulted in a midfield that was often out of position and low on confidence. Because of this, the forwards were forced to track back too much and too deep in order to cover the midfield, pulling them out of scoring position. As the forwards would track back, if they did receive the ball then they would often find themselves with their back to goal, only making scoring more difficult (especially with a group of slower forwards).
Unfortunately for the Dynamo, the group of forwards available throughout the season thus far is not the best for tracking back and then turning upfield to create scoring chances. Luis Angel Landin simply lacked the pace, Dominic Oduro has the pace but has had issues finishing throughout the season, Brian Ching dealt with a hamstring injury and hasn't looked the same since then and Cam Weaver has failed to impress since re-injuring his knee. That leaves Joseph Ngwenya, who has been Houston's most creative player in attack. Unfortunately, Ngwenya arrived after the season started due to International Transfer Certificate issues and has missed games due to suspension.
All of this simply adds up to one massive goal-scoring problem. The Dynamo in past years have scored loads of goals when they have had a healthy and effective midfield. Unfortunately, the changes (and injuries) to the midfield the team have been forced to deal with have made the Dynamo attack less impressive and efficient. Hope is not lost, but when attacking, the team needs to be willing to take chances and attempt shots. Just as the cliche goes, you can't win the lottery unless you buy a ticket, you can't score goals unless you're willing to take shots.
3. Is Pat Onstad's injury a good thing?
Here's some of what Woosley had to say:
Need another positive? Tally Hall is starting in goal. Let me get this out first, I'm not bashing Pat Onstad. Without Onstad the Dynamo don't win two MLS Cups and aren't one of the most successful teams in MLS over the past five seasons. We needed to see what Tally Hall is capable of and ensure he is the man Kinnear will want to entrust the goalkeeping job to for the foreseeable future.
If you just look at Hall's league numbers, 1-2-1, 1.75 GAA, 7 goals in 4 matches, you may not immediately get excited about Tally, but in this situation, ignore the stats. If you really watch him play, you see a keeper that is mobile, comes off his line quickly and with authority and makes good reflex saves. In addition, Hall is positionally strong and know show to play the position. I'm sure some fans will say he's made mistakes or has given up too many rebounds, but this is the first time he's had consistent playing time since coming to Houston and the "negatives" are things that he will work through and likely eliminate from his game.
It is always tough to lose your starting keeper, especially one that has consistently been one of the best in the league and won you two MLS Cups. But, Tally Hall, who is likely to be Houston's starting goalkeeper in the near future, needed real playing time in games that matter to show what he is capable of. Plus, it cannot be over-emphasized that, no matter how well you play in practice, real games are what matter and are the best indication of a player's talent.
Hall has consistently shown that he can be a shot-stopper and that he has great positioning and is mobile. Like Zach said, he has made a few mistakes, but those wrinkles will be ironed out with increased play and time on the pitch.
So, while it is weird saying that Onstad's injury may have been a good thing, I think it has resulted in some real positives both Tally Hall and the long-term stability of this team.
Sometimes it is difficult to ask tough questions of the team you love and passionately support, but rough times mean the hard questions have to be asked. Unfortunately, for better or worse, there will be many more gut-wrenching questions (and decisions) that will be asked of the Dynamo in the offseason.
Ultimately, we all want our favorite team to do well, but when they don't it is both normal and reasonable to ask the "why" questions when your team struggles.
If you have any questions about this Dynamo squad that you want me to answer, put them in the comments and we can discuss them for next week's posts.