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Match Preview: Whitecaps @ Houston Dynamo

Vancouver looks to end their losing streak in one of the toughest MLS venues

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

In a direction we’re hoping is kept strictly to travel and not standings, the Vancouver Whitecaps (2-3-1) head further south this evening with the hopes of picking up points and ending their losing skid against the always difficult-at-home Houston Dynamo (2-2-2).

Match Information

Where: BBVA Stadium, Houston, TX

When: Saturday, May 22nd at 6 pm PST

How: TSN1, TSN4, (TV); AM730 (Radio); ESPN+ (Internet)

Both clubs are coming off lopsided road losses from last weekend. We’re already familiar with the rough outing the ‘Caps suffered through at the hands feet of Sporting Kansas City, but Houston had their own rough go of it in a 3-1 loss to Colorado.

What Happened Last Time?

Because they never faced off during last year’s COVID-shortened season, we have to go all the way back to 2019 to recap the last Whitecaps/Dynamo matches. In their two games that season, the home sides were the victors, pulling off one-goal triumphs after conceding early leads.

Match #1 took place in mid-March and was largely a terrorization of the Whitecaps by Alberth Elis. The Honduran winger set up Memo Rodriguez for a tap-in before closing out the first half by converting a penalty. Fredy Montero slotted a PK of his own while Lass Bangoura levelled shortly after half time, but it was Elis and Rodriguez again to close it out, with the former setting up the latter for a second tap-in to seal it at 3-2.

The return match at BC Place came in September when, once again, Houston would go on to out-shoot (18 to 5), out-chance (1.7 xG to 1.2), and out-possess (53/47) the Whitecaps, though were only rewarded with a fortuitous goal at 78’ from Mauro Manotas. The striker pounced on a shot from distance spilled by Zac MacMath, levelling a PK converted by Hwang In-beom earlier in the half. The match appeared to be headed for a draw, were it not for some ninetieth minute magic from Montero, who was able to corral a short lob from Theo Bair and half-volley it home.

History is both for and against the Whitecaps in their head-to-head with the Dynamo. All-time, Vancouver leads the series, 8-5-3, but only one of those wins has ever come at BBVA Stadium, where the Whitecaps are 1-5-1.

What’s Up With The Enemy?

Looking at the table, Houston have been doing standard Houston things, getting results at home and suffering defeats on the road. Six matches will always be a small sample size, but it’s worth noting that the home and away records for the Dynamo so far are 2-0-1 and 0-2-1 respectively, with a GF/GA of 4/2 at home and 3/6 on the road.

The divide between home and away performances is even more glaring when comparing their Expected Goals. Granted, their xGA is larger no matter where they play, but at home their xG to xGA is 3.4/4.3, compared to 2.8/5.8 on the road.

Clearly, they’re making the most of their chances at home when their Expected Goal differential is -0.9, so where do their strengths lie when their xGA is so much higher than their actual goals allowed?

I can’t say with certainty there’s a correlation here, but it appears that Houston’s defensive strength is in their ability to close down on the ball in their final third. At a success rate of 31.3%, the Dynamo are one of the strongest Pressuring teams in the league this season, while also ranking first in Blocks despite sitting in the bottom half for Tackles. That pressure success rate grows to 34% when playing at home.

Why that rate is larger when the Dynamo play at home may come down to tactics, as in the club are instructed to dial it back when playing on the road. Sure, that can work, but it can also result in a 3-1 trouncing in Colorado.

Nevertheless, it appears that Houston’s defensive strengths come from being able to pressure ball carriers, getting bodies in the way quickly without going to ground for tackles. If they can disrupt or dispossess quickly, they will be ruthless in forcing poor shots or turnovers.

Who’s Starting?

There’s only a smattering of absentees for Saturday, with Vancouver holding the majority of potentially unavailable players.

Ali Adnan continues to be unavailable for the Whitecaps, though the official reason this week is “International Duty,” as the left back has joined the Iraqi National Team for friendlies ahead of their World Cup qualifiers in June. As for injuries, Andy Rose (adductor), Bruno Gaspar (knee), and Jake Nerwinski (knee) all listed as Questionable on the MLS Injury Report, which means we’ll see some changes to the backline this weekend.

With both right backs tending wounds, we’ll most likely see Javain Brown make his first MLS start, on the heels of his debut appearance last week. I also wouldn’t be surprised if last week’s 80th minute cameo of Erik Godoy was a teaser for the Argentine center back starting this week.

If that’s the case, does he replace Ranko Veselinovic or Derek Cornelius in the center? Is it possible we’ll see all three center backs in the starting eleven? Or do we bare witness to the rarest lineup of them all, with Godoy at right back?

My guess: Corny is on the bench, with Erik and Ranko in the middle.

Vancouver - Crépeau; Gutierrez, Veselinovic, Godoy, Brown; Caicedo, Baldisimo, Bikel, Dajome; Alexandre, Cavallini

For the Dynamo, the injured list is far shorter, as only Tyler Pasher remains Questionable (lower body), potentially missing his third match in a row.

For my money, I’m guessing skipper Tab Ramos runs the eleven that held at bay the same SKC side that torched the Whitecaps last week.

Houston - Maric; Lundqvist, Garcia, Parker, Valentin; Corona, Jones, Vera; Rodriguez, Urruti, Picault

Who’s Worth Watching?

Whoever Can Get Into the Penalty Area

Of the six open play goals scored by Houston so far this season, all have come from inside the penalty area, with only one being from some kind of distance (this just-inside-the-line, nutmegging, far post worm-burner from Christian Ramirez last week). But aside from that outlier, the Dynamo have scored a majority of their goals by ramming the ball up the center of the pitch or by turning crossed balls in the net from less than ten yards away. Whether its Memo, Fafa Picault, or Max Urruti, there’s going to be someone nearby that’s fleet of foot making an over-the-shoulder run.

So what does that mean for the Whitecaps? Ball markers will need to jockey as best as possible, take away passing lanes so nothing can slip through, and have your center backs be ready to step up quickly. No Houston player should be afforded any time to operate inside the Whitecap penalty area. Close it all down before the Dynamo can break through.

Who’s Going To Win?

For starters, Vancouver almost never gets a result in Houston. The matches are always entertaining, often frustrating (for the blue and white), but seldom do they ever go in favor of the Whitecaps when playing at BBVA.

The one time it did? We bore witness to the rarities of Kei Kamara scoring his 100th goal and Brek Shea scoring a goal. As for the only other time Vancouver earned points in Houston, Tim Parker was anchoring the backline, the same Tim Parker who I’m certain will be knocking Whitecaps crosses out of the air all evening.

Factor in the aforementioned resolute victory the Dynamo had at home over SKC ten days ago, and I’m sold on this one being a 2-1 Houston victory.

The good news is that I’ve only been right on one of these predictions this year, so take my opinion with the grainiest of salts, and sidle up with the much cheerier outcomes the rest of our staff foresee this weekend. At least we’re all on the same page in thinking that Vancouver will only get one goal.

But to up the ante, I promise I’ll do a shot of tequila for each open play goal scored by the Whtiecaps on Saturday during our next roundtable. Get your cameras ready!

Eighty Six Forever Team Predictions

Andrew: 1-0 VAN

Caleb: 1-1 Draw

Luis: 1-0 VAN

Sam: 1-1 Draw

Officials:

Referee: David Gantar; AR1: Frank Anderson; AR2: Matthew Nelson; 4th: Rosendo Mendoza; VAR: Alejandro Mariscal; AVAR: Jeff Muschik.