Last season, the Houston Dynamo scored 11 goals in their first three games. They scored just 28 more in their final 31 matches on the way to finishing in last place in the Western Conference.
In the offseason, they went on the attack. First, they hired Wilmer Cabrera, the former Chivas USA head coach, who led Rio Grande Valley FC Toros to 2nd place in the USL's Western Conference last season. Then they went about tearing down their offense before a wholesale rebuild: Cristian Maidana and Will Bruin were jettisoned while Andrew Wenger looks to be relegated to the bench.
In the first half against the Seattle Sounders, a game that ended in a 2-1 win over the defending champs, that front three showed the promise that lies ahead for Houston. The team applied pressure in key moments, flustering many of the Sounders in crucial situations.
Quioto and Elis are physical statures whose speed and strength challenged the Sounders backline in the first half. They were able to get on the ball in space on more than a few occasions and showed no fear in attacking any defender 1-v-1. They combined for 11 dribbles, succeeding on 6 of them. Last season, the Dynamo attempted 466 dribbles, the third-fewest in MLS.
You can see from this sequence that Elis is more than willing to attack the defense in any circumstance, in this case winning a corner kick.
Quioto produced the most important play of the game, scoring the game-winning goal from distance in the 42nd minute but the final product wasn’t always there for the two Hondurans: Quioto completed just 47 percent of his passes in the final third, while Elis misplayed a couple passes in dangerous situations.
Torres, meanwhile, did what he always does when he’s on form: show up in the right places in score goals. While his free-kick goal was not a typical Cubo goal, he created a couple of other chances with his movement that almost resulted in additional strikes.
The Mexican forward had the best season of his career under Cabrera, scoring 15 goals for Chivas USA in 2014, but has struggled with injuries and inconsistent play ever since. On Saturday, Torres took four shots and showed some quality hold-up in addition to creating two chances. This all comes after a preseason in which he was among the most productive players in MLS, beating out Mauro Manotas for the starting job.
In the second half, with the Dynamo up 2-0, Cabrera had his team back off and allow the Sounders possession, which they took advantage of. That passivity almost cost Houston as they let up one goal and almost a second. Of course, they were up two goals and it’s common for teams to put their foot on the brake; but their performance in the first half left observers wanting more.
If the Dynamo can sustain the kind of urgency they showed in the first half against Seattle, this could be a playoff team in 2017. If they don’t, it’s possible we’ll see a repeat of 2016.