Saturday, August 16, 2008

A View From the Other Side: RSL -vs- Houston

A View From the Other Side
RSL -vs- Houston
Courtesy of Donald, aka Zolafan

The Houston Dynamo will be playing only their third league game in a month-and-a-half when they battle RSL for first place in the Western Conference Saturday night at Robertson Stadium. Houston spent most of July involved in Superliga play, ending with a bitter loss on penalties 11 days ago in the final at New England.

While Houston entered Superliga on a frustrating streak of three straight league ties, they rode their improved play during that tournament to wins against DC United and Columbus in their last two MLS matches.

It’s déjà vu all over again for Houston fans, as another slow start has turned into a charge back into the playoff picture, just as in 2007. The Dynamo only made two changes to try to improve a struggling offense, resigning Nate Jaqua from a spring sojourn to the Austrian league, and trading for Kei Kamara from San Jose. Jaqua and Kamara had the goals for Houston in the Superliga final.

Followers of the league are well aware that Houston coach Dominic Kinnear will almost always stay faithful to a 4-4-2 diamond formation. With the addition of Jaqua and Kamara, the experiment of Dwayne DeRosario at forward is over - he returned to attacking midfield during Superliga, and was dangerous on offense during the final. The rest of the midfield reflects the stability that is so often envied by other teams – Brad Davis at left wing, Brian Mullan at right wing, and Ricardo Clark at defensive midfield.

Jaqua should start at forward alongside Brian Ching, with Kamara coming off the bench. Ching leads Houston with 8 goals, despite missing more than his share of chances, and will leave after this match to join the USMNT for the World Cup qualifier against Guatemala.

Houston should be much strengthened on the defensive line with the return from injuries of Eddie Robinson and Richard Mulrooney. Robinson has been out since picking up an ankle injury on June 22 at Colorado, while Mulrooney has recovered from minor surgery last month on his left knee. I would expect Robinson to start in central defense alongside Bobby Boswell. Pat Ianni would only be fatigued from the flight back from China after not playing a minute in the Olympics, but would be third choice at center back in any case. Craig Waibel could stay in the starting lineup at right back, considering Mulrooney’s lack of match fitness.

Boswell has been much more solid defensively the past month or two, after a shaky start to the season, and has also scored two goals from set pieces in the past four games.

Stuart Holden also just returned from the Olympics after starting all three games for the US, and I would be very surprised if he even got a few minutes as a sub. Corey Ashe and rookie Geoff Cameron have both contributed as starters this season, and with Houston having no injury problems for the first time this season, they will provide depth off the bench.

Pat Onstad, aka Father Time, has been solid as usual in goal, and will be away to the Canadian national team along with DeRosario after this match.

Probable lineup –

Waibel – Robinson- Boswell – Barrett

While RSL has never got a point at Houston, they’ve always scored, losing 2-1, 2-1 and most recently 4-3 in a wild game last September in which Jaqua had a hat trick from three Ashe assists. I think a rested Houston team will be motivated to take first place for the first time this season. Houston, 2-1.