The Houston Dynamo have been one of the most exciting teams in MLS in 2017, with four forwards able to score at any time as they keep opposing backlines off balance.
That firepower has led to their turnaround this year from one of the worst teams in MLS last season, to a team that was sitting atop the Western Conference entering Wednesday night.
But there’s a weakness beginning to show, and it was on display against the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night, in a game that the Dynamo lost 2-0. Despite all their firepower, they remain uncomfortable in possession.
The majority of Houston's goals this season have come on the counterattack or on set pieces, two areas where the speed and physicality of Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto and Mauro Manotas are most effective. Any team that allows these players to get out on the break will be punished for it.
But when a team backs off and forces Houston to string passes together, it's a different story. The video below shows the Union's low-lying defense and a number of poor passes from the Dynamo.
Some of the errors in the video were simply misplayed passes, but if Houston had their way, they wouldn't even be trying those passes. They wouldn't need to because they'd be out running and gunning.
Alex, who has played as Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera’s No. 10 this year, has had a fantastic season. But his best skill is hitting long balls into space and allowing one of the forwards to run onto it. Against the Union, he was forced into playing hopeful balls that were cut out by the defense.
A lot of that had to do with the Union’s choice to play in a low block, especially after taking the lead. Philly did not choose to apply pressure high up the field, and that forced the Dynamo to try to beat their organized defense through possession.
Possession may not reflect a team's quality, especially when considering game states, but it can tell us a style that a team wants to play. The Dynamo have the fifth-lowest possession percentage of any team in MLS, even after controlling 59 percent of it against Philadelphia, and all of their wins have come when they have possessed the ball at a rate lower than 43 percent. Their passing accuracy percentage of 75.83 is the seventh-lowest in MLS. Instead of possessing it, they would rather win the ball in the defensive third and run at a backpedaling defense.
You can expect the Union's defensive tactics to be replicated whenever a team comes up against the Dynamo. And with four of Houston's next five matches on the road, Cabrera & Co. will have to adjust – and quickly.