Houston Dynamo aim to shut down Montreal Impact counterattack, exploit "fake defending"

HOUSTON – It doesn't take more than a few seconds to be scored on. The Houston Dynamo know that more than most.

When the Dynamo host the Montreal Impact in the Eastern Conference Knockout Round game of the MLS Cup Playoffs on Thursday night (8:30 pm ET, NBCSN), they will be highly wary of Montreal's counterattack.

In six matches in the past two seasons against the Impact, Houston know what Montreal do well. At the top of that list is the Canadian squad's ability to transform a turnover into a counterattack and, when executed well, a goal. While the Impact have not looked dangerous recently – just one win in eight matches, just two goals in their last five – Houston's players are emphasizing defending the counter.

“They have a lot of players and they’re definitely great on the counterattack,” said left back Corey Ashe. “They’re all on the same page and I’d say they’re one of the best at countering. So, taking care of the ball and forcing those guys to defend is important.”

Montreal’s counterattack it is made up of two parts. The first is the quality of the midfielders, who immediately look up when the ball turns over. On the other end is one of the sneakiest and dangerous forwards in MLS: Marco Di Vaio. The Italian finished second in the league in goals with 20 and is a known danger man in front of the net.

“You’ve got to possess the ball well,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear. “Playing simple with the ball is most important. When they have the ball, team shape is the most important thing. Can you put pressure on the pass? If not, can you put pressure on the next pass because they can get their stuff moving? They’re a dangerous team.”

That plan has worked every time Houston have played the Impact at BBVA Compass Stadium. The Dynamo have two wins and a draw against Montreal all-time at home. Also, the Dynamo have only lost one playoff game in Houston (8-1-0).

The question – and hope – for Houston is whether Montreal’s style of play offers an opening. The Dynamo will look to exploit what they refer to as "fake defending."

“When the ball goes by them, they just kind of go to sleep,” Ashe explained. “It becomes important for Kofi [Sarkodie] and me then. If their outside midfielders aren’t going to defend once the ball goes by them, then we can get forward and into the attack.”

Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.