Houston Dynamo's fierce competition at forward keying hot start

HOUSTON – For perhaps the first time in club history, the Houston Dynamo are dealing with a “good problem” in terms of how to dole out playing time on their forward line.

Every week, head coach Wilmer Cabrera must pick two or three starters out of the five-man group of Erick “Cubo” Torres, Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto, Mauro Manotas and Andrew Wenger. The group isn’t lacking for talent – the forwards have scored 14 of Houston’s 15 goals this season, with Torres leading MLS with seven strikes, Quioto and Elis tallying three each and Manotas scoring once.

Torres and Elis got the nod on Saturday, with both finding the back of the net to power the Dynamo to a 2-0 home win over San Jose that moved Houston into third place in the West.

“There’s definitely competition. We [forwards] all want to play and be on the pitch and we’ve all had the chance to play,” Torres said. “We’ve been able to generate a great internal competition and that’s important because that’s what has helped the team to continue scoring goals.”

Manotas, who along with Wenger was the leading Dynamo goal scorer last season with six goals, says internal competition – especially among the forwards – is something that Cabrera preached to the team since the beginning of the season.

The 21-year-old was Houston’s breakout star last season, but he’s mostly come off the bench this season as Torres returned from loan and Quioto and Elis have claimed starting roles in their first season in Texas. Of the five forwards, Manotas (256 minutes) and Wenger (119) have played the least in 2017.  

“It’s a tough competition,” Manotas said. “Erick [Torres] is playing well. [Alberth] Elis is in good form. Romell [Quioto] as well.”

Manotas maintained that all he can do is keep working hard and make the most of his minutes when he gets them. The 22-year-old will likely get starting opportunities when Elis and Quioto are on international duty with Honduras.

Quioto, who missed two games after picking up a shoulder injury while with Honduras in March and has come off the bench in the Dynamo’s last two matches, said it’s great to have players in front of him on the forward depth chart who are performing well.

“When I was in the starting XI I was playing well,” Quioto said. “Having internal competition is great and we’re all supportive of each other when one plays or when one doesn’t.”

The Honduran international noted that he’s about 80 percent healthy and still working on regaining his full strength.

Elis, who scored for the second straight game on Saturday, agreed that the forward competition is yielding better results for Houston.

“The important part is to win no matter who scores,” Elis said. “It doesn’t help the team if a forward scores a goal but we lose the game.”

Cabrera knows the glut of forwards he has at his disposal. On Saturday, he tried to put the nail in the coffin by shifting from a 4-4-2 formation, which the team used for the first time this season, to the team’s regular three-forward setup in the second half. They didn’t end up adding a third goal, but the shift was illustrative of the excellent depth Houston have up top.  

“We ended playing with three forwards and we created a lot of options,” Cabrera said. “Sadly we couldn’t score more [goals], but definitely we had more options and it was good.”