Know Your Enemy. Houston Dynamo - Meeting The First: Part One, The Lineup And The Form

Andre Hainault. Good enough to play Centre Back for Canada, and Right Back for Houston with his eyes closed.

Well, that was something wasn't it - a disappointing, sluggish beginning to the Mariner-era at Toronto FC.

For those brave enough to endure the start and stick through the second half, the club did respond to the woeful first twenty minutes - whether a function of their play or of Kansas City lying off is a matter for debate; to be fair, it was likely a bit of each.

TFC travelled into Texas on Sunday night - and bar-related incidents aside - will have had some time to prepare for Wednesday's match against the Dynamo.

The afternoon's scattered thunderstorms should have dissipated come the 9 p.m. kickoff, and the setting sun should spare them some of the heat, though the stifling humidity will remain.

But what truly awaits them in Houston? A closer look at the Dynamo is in order.

The Lineup

Coach Dominic Kinnear is the only manager the club has ever known and the only formation he uses is the 4-4-2, more often than not a diamond-shaped one. That's not to say it's inflexible, but he is a man who knows what he likes from his club and has built a roster with enough depth to mount a serious assault on the title this season after last year's loss in the MLS Cup Final to Los Angeles.

There are a few questions surrounding who will take the field against TFC: Calen Carr left Saturday's match against Dallas at half-time with a left hamstring strain to open up the right-sided midfield position; newly-signed Honduran midfielder, Oscar Boniek Garcia, has experienced a delay in his visa process, meaning he likely won't be available for another two weeks; thirty-four-year old Brian Ching surely won't be available for all three matches in a week - he has yet to feature in such a situation this season; not to mention longer-term injuries to defender Kofi Sarkodie and forward Alex Dixon, and slight knocks picked up by Jermaine Taylor and Je-Vaughan Watson in Saturday's affair.

Should Ching be rested for what will be a dramatic match in Montreal on Saturday, the most likely replacement would be Macoumba Kandji - the former New York striker regularly replaces the Houston talisman for the final fifteen minutes of matches. Cam Weaver, could get a run out, his brace in the reserve match against Dallas, following first team play on the weekend, helped the Dynamo take that match, 3-2.

If the Jamaican Watson is unfit to go, Brazilian Luiz Camargo, with whom he has shared the role evenly, would be a natural replacement. Likewise for Taylor, Kinnear has a ready-made substitute in Andre Hainault, who presumably was held out against Dallas to rest from his exertions with the Canadian National Team.

Replacing Carr, nominally a striker, on the right-side is less-obvious selection. His pace on the opposite flank to Brad Davis' service has stretched opposition defenses and made up for the lack of speed atop the Houston formation. The position originally belonged to Colin Clark, but during his suspension Watson filled in, before Carr took over the role for the last half seven matches.

Clark, who replaced Carr at half-time, is the likely choice, but Watson, should he regain fitness, too could fill the role.

Making these assumptions, the Dynamo lineup will be as follows: Tally Hall in goal, from right to left: Hainault, Bobby Boswell, Geoff Cameron, and Corey Ashe across the back; Adam Moffat as the more defensive-minded central midfield, with Clark, Camargo, and Davis stationed above him; Kandji and top-scorer Will Bruin - with six goals - up top.

football formations

The Form

It's been a trying season for Houston thus far. A seven-game road trip to start the season as the finishing touches were being put on the BBVA Compass Stadium, their new downtown home, and intermittent long spells of inactivity - twenty-one days off from league action at the end of March to the middle of April, a further ten days at the end of April into May and twelve more with the recent international break, though a friendly against Valencia and US Open Cup action limited the rest while other teams in the league relaxed - have made it difficult to gain any momentum.

Their new ground finally opened on May 12th and since then it has been a whirlwind.

Four league matches in quick succession - two wins and two draws in a two-week spell - followed by a disappointing 1-0 loss in the Open Cup at State rivals, San Antonio and the previously mentioned high-profile international exhibition against Valencia - a 1-2 loss on the strength of an Aritz Aduriz brace; Calen Carr replied with a stunner for the Dynamo - brought about the end of a busy month of May.

Houston were one of the few MLS clubs to see action over the International period; a match on June 10th in Vancouver was a disappointing display from a Dynamo side shorn of key players.

Without Cameron (USA), Hainault (Canada), Watson, and Taylor (both Jamaica) Kinnear was forced into handing rookie Warren Creavalle his first start at right-back and Nathan Sturgis, formerly of TFC, a starting role at centre-back.

With unfamiliar partners to each side and the speedster Darren Mattocks bearing down on him, experience centre-back Boswell had a nightmare, playing a role in each of the three goals that saw the Whitecaps roll to a 3-1 win at home.

He was turned inside out by Mattocks faking a near-post run then backing into space to touch Y.P. Lee's right-sided cross into the net from five yards in the fourth minute; then draw out of position by Gershon Koffie in an attempt to close the Ghanaian down before he sent a lovely diagonal pass for Mattocks to run onto and finish calmly under the keeper; before being made the fool by Koffie again, stealing the ball off his foot and skipping by him as Boswell hesitated on the right-touchline to send a low cross through the goalmouth, eventually falling to Jordan Harvey at the far-post.

Kandji, a second half subsititute for Ching, scored the lone Houston goal, collecting a Brian Ownby cross above the penalty spot in space and sending a hard-finish on the half-volley through Joe Cannon, whose touch could not keep the ball from nestling in the back of the net.

When the rest of the league returned to the field on Saturday, Houston braced themselves for a potentially explosive meeting with rivals.

FC Dallas, the other MLS club in the Lone Star State, came into town in miserable form with TFC-esque levels of frustration having enveloped their season.

Despite numerous injuries, a rash of red cards and suspensions that had seen them winless in nine matches and conceding an early goal - a third-minute deflection off the shin of Will Bruin when Hernan Pertuz's attempted clearance hit the dancing bear after a neat one-two with Carr had played the second-year striker in on goal - Schellas Hyndman's charges put in one hell of an effort in the local derby.

Dallas pressed the play for most of the match, with Jackson finally drawing them level in the fifty-ninth, by following up on a play he started and smashing a Scott Sealy rebound past a helpless Hall. A moment of madness from Jair Benitez four minutes later, contacting the head of Colin Clark with an errant forearm and drawing a red card, saw him ejected from the proceedings.

Thirteen minutes on Houston had reinstated their lead, Moffat collecting a right-sided Davis corner kick high at the far-post and hammering a right-footed shot through a crowd, against the grain into the far-netting to ensure the three points remained with the home side with a 2-1 win on the night.

Be sure to check out Part Two of the preview, due up Wednesday morning, concerning the Tactics, and their exploitation.

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