The Houston Dynamo have a 32-game home unbeaten run, but that could end this weekend at the hands of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
For those in the Whitecaps’ camp there’s plenty of reason for optimism – this despite the much vaunted 32-game home unbeaten streak the Dynamo have put together.
A perfect six points from their first two games – and it hasn’t just been the results, the ‘Caps have played good football and looked good value for both wins.
There seems to be a greater emphasis on possession, and as a result, the team can control its fate a bit more than relying on the counterattack – a strategy which brought mixed results in 2012.
Nigel Reo-Coker and Daigo Kobayashi have looked inspired signings thus far, with the former’s power and the latter’s guile acting as catalysts for composure in the middle of the park.
Still, playing away from home in Major League Soccer is never easy. Plenty of teams look good at home and struggle on the road – so Saturday’s match will test the group’s resolve.
Head coach Martin Rennie insisted this week that his team will continue to play conservatively on the road – he certainly won’t feel any duty to entertain and will make defense the first priority of his charges.
It’s likely a wise approach, and there’s the added benefit that a counterattacking style seems to suit Darren Mattocks, who has looked fairly toothless in the team’s opening two matches.
Rennie says it’s too early to criticize Mattocks, and that’s fair enough, but in the team’s opening two games – and especially against the Columbus Crew, he didn’t seem nearly as involved as last season.
With the team opting for more short passing as opposed to hoofing it up to him, Mattocks will need to adapt and modify his game accordingly.
When a team keeps the ball as well as the Whitecaps have in the early going, it means the opponents sit back and look to clog the defensive third – penetrating congested defenses and packed midfields requires intelligence and guile; speed and athleticism are integral playing as an attacker in a counterattacking team – less so for a team that keeps the ball well.
Whether Mattocks can develop the ability to play in tight spaces under heavy marking will be interesting to follow – can he become a player capable of playing in any sort of system, or will he become a high-quality player who can only be at his best on teams which play with minimal possession and attack on the break?
But, that thread isn’t of particular concern this weekend – if the ‘Caps do play a more conservative, counterattacking game, this will suit Mattocks just fine. He scored six of his eight goals on the road last season by getting in behind defenses that were pushed high up the field.
And, beyond what Mattocks brings, Houston will be without starters Brad Davis (United States), Boniek Garcia (Honduras) and Jermaine Taylor (Jamaica) due to international call ups.
Vancouver will be without designated player Kenny Miller due to a call up to the Scottish national side, and while he has started 2013 with a pair of workmanlike performances, that will be a trade off the Whitecaps will be very happy with.
Going to Houston is never easy, with or without the omissions, but don’t be surprised to see that 32-game home unbeaten streak finally come to an end, two short of equalling the 34-game record established by Real Salt Lake.