Going into the Saturday's game versus New York Red Bulls, Matthew Roth of SBNation's very own Once A Metro, contacted me with some questions regarding the match-up and the state of the Dynamo. I also answered some questions from him which you'll be able to read both here and on his site.
The game is not only important for the Red Bulls who are looking to build some momentum with the arrival of Thierry Henry, but also for Houston, who has to start winning games if they want to make any sort of push towards the playoffs.
How has Hans Backe been using Thierry Henry since the forward's arrival? How do you feel the potential partnership between Henry and Juan Pablo Angel compares to other striking partnerships in the league? Against Houston's?
Honestly, I've been pretty critical of the Thierry Henry signing. When a player comes from the top of the world to end his career in the MLS, you need to have some questions about whether he'll perform or just want to end his career playing "easy" competition. So far by all accounts, he's been showing up to practice early and leaving late. In his own words, he isn't in proper shape and needs to get his fitness back.
On paper, the partnership with him and Angel is by far the best in the league. It's pretty scary to think about how much of an improvement this is over JPA/Salou Ibrahim.
Houston has a very dynamic striker in Brian Ching but I don't think that the quality of strikers is even comparable. Our depth at the position is on of our greatest strengths as if Henry comes out (I'd expect him to play 60 minutes), Hans Backe can send in the 6'4" Macoumba Kandji who is incredibly difficult to cover.
Both of our teams have had pretty significant changes in with central midfielders this year - Palmer and Lindpere. How would you compare those two players? How does Lindpere differ from Palmer? Who has the advantage tonight?
Lovel Palmer has been having a pretty solid year for the Dynamo. He doesn't have the same statistics as Joel Lindpere, who has been such a fantastic addition to a midfield that was horrendous last year. Actually, everything about the Red Bulls was terrible last year. But back to your question, the biggest difference is that Lindpere has been able to find the back of the net on an occasion and has been able to set up the attack fairly well for the Red Bulls. He is in no way perfect though. He has trouble if he doesn't have space to work with and doesn't maintain control if pressured. I'd give the advantage to Lindpere just because of the fact that the Dynamo defense needs to mark Henry and Angel which will provide substantial space for Lindpere to get creative.
One of the keys to your team has been Tim Ream's performance. How do you assess a match-up between him and Brian Ching?
Tim Ream has been a very nice surprise for the team. Anytime you have a rookie come in and play like a world class veteran, you have to be happy. He does have his gaffs but overall he's been playing very well. The combo of Ream and Mendes has been such as step up in quality over an aging Mike Petke (love the guy, but he's lost a step). Even if Ream is unable to continuously mark Ching, I'm confident that the other Red Bulls defenders will be able to aid our young back. Ching will need to beat a vastly improved defense as well as a very confident Bouna Coundoul, who's been fantastic since June and had two great games against Tottenham and Man City. His confidence will be at an all time high and I don't think that bodes well for the Houston team.
My answers to his questions:
In the last game, it was a shoot out with the Red Bulls taking 21 shots and the Dynamo 14. What changes have been made to the Dynamo defense to ensure that the duo of Juan Pablo Angel and Thierry Henry don't have the opportunity to find the back of the net?
There really haven't been any major changes to the Dynamo defense since the two teams last played. Houston released veteran defender Craig Waibel (who never really played), but no new players have been signed and Coach Kinnear has been consistently running the same back line of Mike Robinson, Eddie Robinson, Bobby Boswell, and Andrew Hainault. While this is more or less the same group as last year, the defense this year has not been near as effective or strong. As we saw in the last meeting of the two teams, Houston's defense seems susceptible to speed and counter attacks, two things the Red Bulls are very good at. For Saturday's match, the Dynamo is without Bobby Boswell, who misses the game after receiving two yellow cards against the Crew. This doesn't bode well for Houston and I honestly think that the Red Bulls will score at least one goal tonight.
Brian Ching appears to be the only threat the Dynamo have on offense. Am I missing something or is the team really as one dimensional as they appear? They've lost some really close games which makes me think they could be sitting 4th in the West.
This season Ching hasn't been near as effective as seasons past. Because of this, the scoring load (when Houston actually scores) has been carried by the midfield players, who have the majority of the goals. Brad Davis, Danny Cruz and Lovel Palmer have all contributed to the Dynamo's scoring tally, but I think Houston's most creative player is Joseph Ngwenya. The second-time Dynamo has the most creative feet and seems to see the field the best of Houston's attacking players. Unfortunatly, Ngwenya carried a heavy load during SuperLiga and Open Cup play, so Coach Kinnear has not been starting as much as I would like to see. Ideally, I think Houston should start with Ching and Ngwenya up top as part of a 4-4-2 or run a 4-4-3 with Dominic Oduro added to the attack. However, I have a hunch that Houston will start with a 4-4-2 in order maximize midfield players in an effort to contain New York's attack.
The Dynamo seem to have a pretty difficult schedule going into the second half the season. What are your realistic expectations for the team and what needs to change for this team to make the playoffs?
For the run-in, the Dynamo are looking at two games against the Revolution, Sounders, and Earthquakes and second games against Chicago, Colorado, Kansas City, DC United and the Union; not an easy schedule. While I really want to be a fanboy and say that Houston can make the playoffs, I think fans need to temper their expectations. The club has struggled this season with age, injuries, suspensions, and certainly the loss of Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark in the offseason and De Rosario last year. Losing our midfield core has really hurt the team and put the club in a position of trying to patch holes in the roster. I foresee the remainder of the season, I see Coach Kinnear pushing to make a playoff run, but doing so with a core group of the younger players of the club's future. Danny Cruz, Lovel Palmer, Corey Ashe and Tally Hall. I think the coaching staff recognize that a playoff push is possible but not probable and will start looking more to the future and giving the younger guys more playing time. All of this will lead to an off-season unload of older, expensive and less-effective players.