Huzzah! Back to writing never felt so good!
Although my health is not 100%, therapy goes well and I am going to give this writing thing a try again.
With Colorado Rapids looking to secure second place in the Western Conference they find themselves on the road to play Houston Dynamo for the first time in 2016. If the Rapids win, they will secure second place in the West and will still have a realistic shot at Supporters Shield.
I had a chance to exchange questions with our friends at Dynamo Theory about this match and, of course, My Little Pony. Here is what we spoke about:
Burgundy Wave: This has clearly been a disappointing season for the Dynamo. What do you think was the main culprit for the bad season? Is it just one thing, or many factors that has led to a season to forget in Houston?
Dynamo Theory: There are several issues at work to explain the disappointing season and the main reason is consistency (which applies to a few areas of the team). When the season began there were two stories about the Dynamo. First, nobody could score like us, and second nobody could be scored on like us. With then-manager Owen Coyle at the reins, instead of making minor adjustments to his team, he took a drastic approach after seeing how exposed our team was to long, over the top passes in our first trip to Vancouver (the outcome of which was only decided by a questionable penalty, not a goal from the run of play). This led him to re-work the team tactically which made the team more defensively oriented with how it played. This was devastating to the offense which only recently was able to regain some form.
After Coyle and the Dynamo parted ways, Wade Barrett took the helm (or the interim helm) and made it his goal for the Dynamo to be difficult to play against. It, for the most part, was a success. He was able to implement the kind of defensive discipline that Coyle wanted, but couldn't deliver, but the offense still wasn't there. The offense would show up every now and then under Barrett, but after scoring an early goal the team would sit in and invite opponents back in. On other occasions the team would give up a goal and then show a lot of promise on the offensive side.
Essentially, the team has lacked balance with its approach. The season as a whole can be described as "all-in on offense" for the first 3 games or so, and then "all-in on defense". After those first games our offense has suffered due to defensive "safe" tactics. Barrett has turned the Dynamo into a top defensive club, but you can't win games and points if you struggle to score.
Burgundy Wave: Cubo Torres was a massive signing for the Dynamo and is now on loan. What happened with Torres?
Dynamo Theory: I think the start of Cubo's difficulties began with the other personnel at his position. With competition coming from Will Bruin and Giles Barnes for striker roles, it became tough for him to earn starting minutes. Enter Mauro Manotas. I believed that Manotas largely outplayed Cubo during preseason while playing as both a striker and as a wide midfielder. These are problems that Cubo could have overcome if he had done something with the minutes he had been given and, he never really did. There were glimpses of the former Chivas USA player, but for a large time he seemed to disappear and looked complacent.
This isn't all on Cubo - at least this season, as the offense as a whole has been woeful largely due to little to no support from the midfield and fullbacks. But, for a striker, fairly or unfairly, you're judged first on production.
Burgundy Wave: What do the Dynamo need to do to compete in 2017 and beyond? Is it a lack of identity? The wrong players? And is Wade Barrett the guy?
Dynamo Theory: The Dynamo don't need much in order to compete as much as they need to be tactically balanced. The identity of being "difficult to play against" is a good one, and one that's largely held up, but we need more. The players are there now, but we definitely could use reinforcements at the forward position. With just Mauro Manotas, Will Bruin, and Andrew Wenger (though I'm told Barrett will never deploy Wenger as a traditional striker and only as a winger) listed as a forward with the Dynamo at the moment, we need some help even if it's coming off the bench. Perhaps Cubo could be that player as his loan stint was terrible and the option to purchase him likely won't be exercised.
Barrett has demonstrated that he can make this team defensively sound right away. He's experienced a few growing pains as he finds way to make the offense click, but slowly he's finding games where the Dynamo can score 2 or 3 goals without exposing our defense. He absolutely can be the game next year. However, fans and the ownership might look elsewhere for immediate results instead of gradual.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1): Joe Willis; DaMarcus Beasley, Jalil Anibaba, Raul Rodriguez, Sheanon Williams; Collen Warner, Ricardo Clark; Alex Lima, Oscar Boniek Garcia, Andrew Wenger; Mauro Manotas
Projected Score: 2-2 draw
And here are my answers to Dynamo Theory:
Dynamo Theory: The last time the Dynamo and the Rapids faced off in the regular season was towards the end of last season. The Dynamo are in a familiar position (outside the playoffs) as last season, but the Rapids have rebounded from a poor season to a fantastic one. What's been the key(s) to the team's success?
Burgundy Wave: There have been three factors in my mind:
1) The growth of Pablo--Pablo Mastroeni will be the first to tell you that he was not the best of coaches over the course of his Rapids managerial career. But he spent this past off season in Europe learning and developing as a coach and this has paid off in a better Rapids team, but improved style of play.
2) The growth of the FO--the front office, to be honest, has made a number of poor personnel decisions over the years and have struggled finding the right players for Colorado. Part of that stems from no established style, but another part of it comes from just signing bad players. For every Shkelzen Gashi that the Rapids have signed, there have been plenty of Kevin Harbottle's.
3) The growth of a Style: the Rapids finally have an established style of play. It may not be pretty or beautiful, but it is efficient and pragmatic. They will completely wear you down and force you to not play your game. They are a bear to play against and they are a team, that with their style, can play and defeat anyone in this league.
Dynamo Theory: The Rapids went through a bit of a rough patch in mid-August through early September as they only managed 2 points from 4 games. Since then they have gone on a 4 game unbeaten run with 8 points in 4 games. What changed in that time? Tactics? Personnel? Or just form?
Burgundy Wave: Part of their dip in form was three consecutive games on the road and some injury challenges. And some of it certainly has to do with finding the right formula on the pitch. Who should be playing and where they should be playing. There was a call earlier in the year for the Rapids to play all of their big names on the pitch at the same time. Well, the club has realized that the big names are not necessarily going to spur them on to victory. So you have seen people like Marco Pappa on the bench. Bottom line for the Burgundy Boys: three points. No matter who gets the goals or who plays.
Dynamo Theory: Who is one player that the Dynamo should keep an eye on in this game?
Burgundy Wave: I would really suggest that the Dynamo faithful look for #11 Shkelzen Gashi. He has been nothing short of terrific this year and is the engine that makes the Rapids go. He has great skill on the ball and will take on anyone. Gashi is also not afraid to do the dirty work that is sometimes needed in MLS. In addition, Marlon Hairston is proving that he has what it takes to be a star in this league--and should warrant a USMNT call-up in January
Dynamo Theory: Bonus Question: The Dynamo Theory and Burgundy Wave twitter accounts have had their fun in the past, often while the Dynamo were not playing well, which has somehow led to plenty of discussion about My Little Pony. Which pony characters would our USMNT vets, Tim Howard and DaMarcus Beasley, be?
Burgundy Wave: Ha! Excellent! Yes, the Wave and Dynamo Theory have had a whole lot of fun with My Little Pony. Covering soccer should be fun and we cover our teams out of love for them and the relationship between Dynamo Theory and the Wave is one of the reasons it is so fun to do this.
But for your question: Tim Howard: Howard would have to be Twilight Sparkle--loyal, friendly and a leader all day. Howard block shots to protect the goal like Twilight Sparkle can block spells to protect her fellow Ponies. Plus, Twilight is royalty and if the Rapids win MLS Cup this season, Howard will be treated like royalty in Colorado.
As for DaMarcus Beasley: Beasley has to be Applejack. No question. No Doubt. Applejack is hard working, loyal and would do anything for her friends. Beasley is hard working (the dude NEVER stops working on the field), incredibly loyal to his club and country and I am pretty sure he would bleed orange, red, white and blue. And Beasley has your back--just like Applejack with her friends.
Predicted Lineup: Tim Howard, Marc Burch, Axel Sjoberg, Jared Watts, Eric Miller, Sam Cronin, Dillon Powers, Sebastian LeToux, Shkelzen Gashi, Marlon Hairston, Dominique Badji
Predicted Score: Houston Dynamo 0:1 Colorado Rapids