Houston as a team relies heavily on dead-ball situations to provide much of their attacking prowess. The delivery of Brad Davis, who handles most dead-ball situations, be they free kicks, corners, or penalties, is sublime, with many referring to him as the left-footed David Beckham.
After missing a spell in April nursing a calf injury Davis has yet to contribute - only two helpers to his credit so far - the sort of numbers that saw him lead the league in assists (sixteen) last season.
He did score a wonder-strike in the opening match of BBVA Compass Stadium to earn his side a 1-0 win over DC and etch his name in the record books as the first goal scorer at the new ground.
Adam Moffat has been an important acquisition since joining the club in a midseason trade from Portland last summer. Normally sitting in front of the back-four, Moffat is not solely a defensive midfield, often picking his chances to get forward, arriving late at the top of the box and unleashing fierce shots from distance if given the opportunity. In Davis' absence he took over the restarts, barely missing a beat.
Pairing with Moffat in the centre of the park, Luiz Camargo is the more skillful selection. The Brazilian, who arrived late to preseason due to visa issues with his then pregnant wife and a car accident, hasn't really found regular opportunities to get involved, though he was able to combine well with Brian Ching in the final minutes of their match in New England to help salvage a point.
Watson provides good energy in the centre, but lacks the ability to link up that makes Camargo dangerous.
Ching has taken the time as his career nears its end to evolve as a player; once a frontline bruiser, who battled with the opposing centre-backs for every inch of space, he now has in his arsenal the ability to drop-deep and function as playmaker as well.
His through-ball for Will Bruin's goal in Chicago and the combination with Camargo against the Revolution are just a few examples of a savvy veteran using his skill on the ball to exploit defenders not expecting the delicate touch.
Neither full-back could be termed "rampaging", but of the two, left-back Corey Ashe is more likely to get forward to provide width. Andre Hainault or Jermaine Taylor on the right can get up and down the pitch, but are much more selective in choosing their moments.
That is partially why Calen Carr's inclusion on the right of the midfield has been such a boon to Dominic Kinnear, his pace and ability to work out wide and cut in stretches that side of the pitch, gives Davis an outlet to switch play to the opposite flank, and helps make up for the lack of pace between Ching and Will Bruin.
With Carr out injured, the inclusion of Colin Clark in his stead should provide an adequate replacement and should Ching indeed be rested for the much speedier Mac Kandji the loss of pace should not pose much of a problem.
In his second season, Bruin is turning into a well-rounded finisher, equally adept bearing down on goal, finishing in the air, or playing provider when the opportunity presents itself.
Tally Hall in goal deserves a mention for simple being one of the best young-ish - he is twenty-seven years old - keepers in the league. After two years abroad in Denmark and a further two as backup to Pat Onstad he stepped into the starting role seamlessly once the former Canadian International retired at the end of 2010.
For Toronto to stand a chance against Houston it is important to deny Davis the chance to provide service. Close him down and limit set-piece opportunities by abstaining from lazy fouls around the box, or even in their own half.
The tricky factor with the Dynamo and set-pieces is who to mark.
Normally, the defensive unit would pair the best defenders against the biggest opponents, but whom to choose - Ching? Bruin? Boswell? Cameron? Taylor? Hainault? Perhaps that is why Hainault has a tendency to find himself available on corner kicks, making slicing runs to the near-post, because most teams simply do not have enough big bodies to mark all the potential targets in a given Houston eleven.
Defensively Houston is sturdy, but not impenetrable.
Geoff Cameron is still adjusting to dropping back from midfield to defense and still enjoys the occasional surging run up the pitch. Often he can be observed starting to progress forward only to catch himself and regain position. If he turns the ball over, as the deepest Dynamo outfielder on the pitch, the consequences can be disasterous - New England's second goal in their recent 2-2 draw was the result of Cameron being harried by Blake Brettschneider and turning the ball over to a streaking Saer Sene.
As discussed in the first part, Bobby Boswell had a nightmare match against Vancouver recently and neither Cameron, nor Boswell, nor Hainault and Taylor is particularly quick, making mistakes at the back troublesome.
Defensive miscues have accounted for a good number of opponent's goals. The Cameron cough up and a pair of failed back-passes: one from Cameron allowing Renteria to steal in and another from Ashe putting keeper Hall under pressure, only for his clearance to rebound off the charging Kenny Cooper for the lone goal in the Red Bulls 1-0 win in New York.
Press their defenders when they're on the ball.
It seems counterintuitive, but strangely for all their supposed aerial prowess, Houston has really been exposed on crosses. All three of DC's goals in that exciting 3-2 win at RFK came from service in the wide positions. Perhaps it is a function of a lack of width and hard-working two-way players on the outside of the midfielder that drags the back-line out of shape.
Use the flanks, get numbers in the box, and attack the delivery.
Houston have also conceded two penalty kicks - against Seattle and New England - both for clattering into players needlessly in the box on or after corner kicks. Both were converted with Hall diving to his right both times, once being sent the wrong way and the other missing the shot.
Sometimes just getting in a good position and holding one's ground is a good option.
Points of Interest
Houston were involved in one of the stranger matches of the season, a storm shortened Sunday tilt in Chicago back in April, that was suspended for over an hour and ended after only seventy minutes of play due to concerns of player safety in the face of continuing rain, lightning and thunder.
Check out Will Bruin's Dancing Bear celebration - Kinnear gave him the nickname. According to Bruin, "We were doing this finishing drill where Dom [Kinnear, Dynamo head coach] chips it up and you had to chest it down and hit it one-time. When I went to chest it, my arms were flailing, and Dom yelled, ‘You look like some kind of dancing bear.'"
The clubs will meet a further two times this season: On July 28th at BMO Field and again August 25th in Houston.
Houston won the last meeting 2-0 on July 9th, 2011 in Houston on the strength of goals from Danny Cruz and Geoff Cameron, leveling the season series at a game apiece, Toronto having won the initial meeting 2-1 on May 7th at BMO Field, goals from Joao Plata and Maicon Santos before Lovell Palmer got one back in the final minutes.
Toronto has twice given up three goals at Houston, but has found some success. Their first trip in 2007 ended a 0-0 draw, despite Maurice Edu being sent off in the 42nd minute and who can forget the dramatic Dwayne De Rosario fueled 1-2 win decided by a 92nd minute free kick by De Ro, virtually an exact replica of his 60th minute strike past former teammate and fellow Canadian Pat Onstad.
In an interesting parallel, Houston backup keeper Tyler Deric was arrested and charged in an incident with Houston police officer in the preseason outside of a local bar. Three TFC players were involved in a less-serious incident and were subsequently sent home leaving the side short-handed for Wednesday.