Dynamo's Kandji earning praise for defensive renaissance

mac kandji doing well in defense

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HOUSTON – With the Houston Dynamo switching to a 4-3-3 formation in their last three games, the emphasis has been on defense all over the field. And attacker Mac Kandji is falling right in line.

The 6-foot-4 Kandji is known for his ability to get forward and pressure opposing defenses with his pace and unpredictability on the ball. While the wide formation allows for him exploit those skills, what has stood out is his commitment to getting back on defense and help keep clean sheets.

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“I’ve never been a defensive guy and all the teams I’ve played on they’ve never asked me to do the defensive work,” Kandji said. “In this formation, I have to put in the defensive work. I think Dom [Kinnear, Dynamo head coach] appreciates that and my teammates appreciate that.”

Houston’s version of the 4-3-3 puts a premium on their wingers to play two-way soccer. With the fullbacks encouraged to get into the attack and whip balls into the box, Kandji and his opposite number, Boniek García, are asked to put in an up and down shift, playing endline-to-endline soccer.

Before coming to Houston, Kandji admits that may have been an issue but is one of the characteristics he has improved on since arriving.

“Mac has come in and done a good job,” Brad Davis said. “It’s a lot of work in a 4-3-3. You’ve got to get forward and get back. He’s put the work in.”

Despite the defensive work, Kandji – along with García, Will Bruin and others – is still expected to press the issue down the wing and capitalize on the offensive opportunities he gets.

“The trick is to play the ball from out wide and try to release the wings one-v-one,” Kandji said. “If you can put the ball outside and get the outside backs involved, me and [García] and Will and hopefully a midfielder can put a lot of options in the box and put the ball in the back of the net.”

In Kandji, who is one of the few players that have played extensively in the system, the Dynamo have a player that fulfills that dual role as winger. Now the trick is to get him as involved as possible as the Dynamo push to turn up their offensive production.

“We’re trying to get him to be a little more mobile and move more when he receives the ball,” Kinnear said. “When he does that he can be powerful and we’re trying to get him some looks on goal.”

Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.