The Houston Dynamo lost to the New England Revolution in the SuperLiga final on Tuesday night, but that setback didn’t overshadow the fact that the defending MLS Cup champions are rounding into form at just the right time in MLS play.
Houston’s 2-0 win over a quality Columbus squad showed just how well the Dynamo is playing as it moves toward its rightful place atop the West standings. Combining depth, talent and experience, Houston is looking like a good bet for a third straight trip to the league final.
The Crew was looking like a title contender before the weekend, although it should be noted that Columbus was missing players, including all-star winger Robbie Rogers and fellow Olympian Emmanuel Ekpo. The loss to Houston doesn’t chance the Crew’s position as one of the league’s best, if anything, Columbus played well despite several absences due to the Olympics, suspensions and injuries.
SBI correspondents Alex Swaim and Brant Guillory took in the action on Sunday and shared their thoughts with us:
Jaqua the key to Dynamo surge
By ALEX SWAIM
As the ball bounced off the top goalpost above Matt Reis’ head in the Superliga finals, breaking the coveted "victories in a championship game" streak the Dynamo held over the New England Revolution, I
couldn’t help but think that this Dynamo team should have won it in regulation.
But they didn’t, and there’s no use crying over spilled titles. (Besides, if the Rev’s make it to the MLS finals the Dynamo will just have start a new championship streak.)
The way the Dynamo are playing right now, including their 2-0 home win over Eastern title contenders the Columbus Crew, it’s hard not to imagine them returning to the big game.
The big reason for that? Nate Jaqua. Ever since Jaqua started playing under Dominic Kinnear last season, his game has solidified. Jaqua’s willing to make his chances instead of waiting for them like he did in other systems.
Look no further than the second Dynamo goal for the proof. Jaqua’s run put him in a great position for the through ball from Brian Ching, he fought off two defenders to collect it, and made a sick side-foot pass to an onrushing Ching for the goal. You have to give Ching credit for his part in the goal, but the addition of Jaqua back onto this squad has turned around the Dynamo’s offensive woes.
And since his season debut against DC United in the Superliga group stage, the Dynamo have yet to lose a game.
That’s a good endorsement. When Stuart Holden and Patrick Ianni get back from China, the squad gets that much better. I’m not sold Ianni can overtake Geoff Cameron as first centerback off the bench at this point, but that’s a good problem to have. Assuming they can stay healthy, the return of Eddie Robinson and Richard Mulrooney make the squad into the deepest side in MLS.
Assuming Kei Kamara can learn to time his runs better (just as Joseph Ngwenya did before him) then the only weakness in the team lies in defensive depth.
Or Ricardo Clark missing too much time. If you’ve watched the Dynamo this season, you already understand why that’s true.
So Dynamo fans, we might have lost the Superliga trophy to Faux Patriotic Brigade, but keep dancing and singing until the season’s over. We’ll hoist the real trophy then.
Crew plays well but still falls to Houston
By BRANT GUILLORY
What comes around goes around…
One week after The Crew rode Hesmer’s lights-out night to a victory at Colorado, they were ridden by Houston to the tune of a 2-0 loss in a game in which they arguably played better than the previous week.
Against Colorado, The Crew’s five shots (3 on goal) led to 2 goals, and a win. Against Houston, their 12 shots led to 3 on goal, and nothing in the net. And while Rogers and Ekpo are missing, the shots were mostly from es-Schelotto and Moreno, and not the Olympic wingers. Simply put, that’s the story of the game.
There were subplots, of course. Columbus was missing more than just their Olympians. Team captain, and heart-and-soul, Frankie Hejduk had a week off to surf with the kid, thanks to his yellow-card accumulations. He was joined in the penalty box by Lenhart (dumb red card last week) and the growing injury bench of Padula, Moffat, and during the game, Chad Marshall. Of course, Columbus’ B-squad was matched up against a less-than-first-choice Houston lineup that was missing DeRosario and 4 other starters.
Columbus didn’t play a poor game. They moved the ball well, created chances, and forced Houston’s defense to chase a bit. There were plenty of shots, and a few great saves by Onstad that kept Columbus off the board. es-Schelotto was again the conductor of the orchestra, but the end result was an offense thwarted by a great goal-keeping performance. Hmmmm. Seen that somewhere recently, eh?
What Columbus showed was that their embarrassment of riches at certain positions – defensive midfielder, molasses-paced forward – can’t cover the lack of depth at the others, like central defender, and any attacking midfield position. Once Marshall went down, and Ezra replaced him in the middle (rather than shifting Iro inside and putting Ezra on the wing), Houston had little trouble pressing the attack. A three-man back line, consisting of a nearly-retired 12-year veteran, a tall and clumsy rookie, and an out-of-position foul machine, was good for entertainment value, but not for the blood pressure.
There were the occasional bright spots. Jed Zayner was not overwhelmed in one of his rare first-team appearances. Jason Garey continues to make his case for greater playing time. Eddie Gaven seems to be back from his injuries and ready to fight for his first-team place.
But none of that overcomes the fact that Columbus can’t fill the void in front of Brian Carroll with anything more than a converted defensive midfielder, or that they can’t cover the back line when Chad Marshall is forced to stand down. Those two key positions – the ones around which most great teams are built – are likely to kill Columbus come playoff time.
It’s not all gloom and doom. The Crew are 2 points off the pace for the best record in the league, which means 6 more teams have to pass them for Columbus to not make the playoffs, and right now, maybe 2 are playing good enough to do so. Yes, other teams have a few games in hand, but mostly because of other fixture commitments like the SuperLiga and US Open Cup, which should works to The Crew’s advantage as they are able to rest their first team a bit more (and this week’s bye doesn’t hurt). So even if everyone else takes the mathematically-dubious maximum points from their games (hey, *someone* has to lose, right), Columbus is still fighting for seeding in the playoffs, instead of fighting to extend their season. Sorry, but I refuse to get overly upset about that, even with a 2-0 loss to the defending champs.
Now, if only we can get Christopher Sullivan to PRONOUNCE SCHELOTTO’S NAME CORRECTLY. I ran back the tape (is it still a ‘tape’ if it’s TiVo?) on the Thursday night ESPN game when the players introduce themselves for the camera. Guille clearly says "Schelloto" with no "es-" in front of it. If we can’t trust the man to pronounce his own name… C’mon Christopher es-Sullivan. It’s not that hard. Really.