Know Your Enemy: Houston Dynamo – Meeting the Third

Well this is just a fun picture. and oh yeah, Calen Carr, don't leave him unmarked on a corner kick again.

So we meet again?

If it appears as though Toronto has played Houston every few weeks, that's because they have. For the third - and final - time in as many months TFC will face the Dynamo, back at the scene of that thrilling - and exhausting - 3-3 draw, Houston's BBVA Compass Stadium.

Just as that draw in June sparked a strong run of form under new coach Paul Mariner, the loss in Toronto at the end of July precipitated a poor one, resulting in the current run of five matches without a win.

Toronto will look to once again turn their fortunes with a match against Houston on Saturday night. Given the condensed period of the three matches, much of what was written before (Meeting the Second) still rings true, but still, a closer look at the Dynamo is in order.

Recent Form

Houston has played four matches since the two last met - three in the league and one in the Champions League. An interesting home-and-away Friday night series with New York, each winning at home 2-0, was followed by the visiting of Columbus last weekend and a midweek trip down to El Salvador to face CD FAS.

In the first match against New York, Houston came out strong, taking a two-goal lead in the first half hour of play.

Just seventy-two seconds in, Jermaine Taylor bundled a deflected Andre Hainault shot over the line at the right-post, after a deep Brad Davis free kick led to a mad scramble in the box.

Macoumba Kandji got the initial shot off, which was well-saved by Bill Gaudette, but the rebound fell to Hainault, who was allowed a few cracks at the ball.

Calen Carr doubled their lead before the half-hour mark getting on the end of a wonderful curling ball from Kandji on the left, soaring over Roy Miller to win the header at the back-post, placing it back across the keeper just inside the left-post.

New York offered very little by way of a challenge on short rest from a Tuesday night friendly against Tottenham, faltering in the oppressive heat and intimidating surroundings, despite the debut of Tim Cahill - who oddly put a free header from a Thierry Henry corner kick well wide of the near-post.

The return leg a week on was a very different affair. Where Houston had come out early, New York waited until the final half-hour to make their mark.

In a much more even contest - both sides had the week off between fixtures - the two traded chances throughout the first sixty minutes. Kandji caused all sorts of trouble down the left, but was let down by his one-footedness (right) and poor finishing.

Heath Pearce played Cooper down the left-flank with a glorious through-ball, he cut the ball back to a late-arriving Sebastien Le Toux at the top of the box, but his blast was blocked from reaching the target by Taylor.

Cahill again wasted a free header from a Henry corner kick before exhibiting just how dangerous he can be with his noggin.

A left-sided Miller throw-in to Cooper was played up the line to Joel Lindpere, who played it back to Miller to hit a swing cross to the back-post. Cahill rose majestically to meet the service, nodding it down and back across the goal, virtually banking it off of Marcus Holgersson two-yards from the goal-line, for what must have been the easiest goal of the defender's career.

Houston pushed for an equalizer, a Bobby Boswell ball from the back played in Kandji down the left-channel, but again his profligacy was costly. Corey Ashe then struck a rasping shot off the bar with Gaudette struggling to rise and meet it.

With numbers forward, Houston were struck on the counter: Cahill showing his playmaking ability, holding the ball on the left, skipping around a challenge before feeding a lovely pass to Henry, breaking the offside trap, playing the Frenchman in alone from forty yards.

Calmly, Henry waited for Tally Hall to commit himself, before squaring to the streaking Jan Gunnar Solli for another simple finish into an empty net.

Their match against Columbus was covered in depth in the preview for Wednesday's match.

Houston took the lead through a smash from Davis, before Cole Grossman responded with a fine finish of his own before the close of the first half.

Eddie Gaven gave Columbus the lead fifteen minutes into the second, but Adam Moffat struck, against his former club, in the final ten minutes to draw the match at twos. Fair enough on the night.

As Toronto flew into Columbus for their own clash against the Crew on Wednesday night, Houston were flying down to El Salvador for their opening CONCACAF Champions League fixture with CD FAS.

A largely reserve-laden side featuring only two regular starters - Moffat, and Robert Boswell, oh CONCACAF - and a return to their bruising 4-4-2, Houston exerted their physical advantage over the diminutive FAS back-line.

Three headed goals, from Brian Ching, Cam Weaver, and Je-Vaughan Watson after sixty minutes of play. FAS were able to pull one back, when substitute and leading-scorer Jonathan Aguila latched onto a failed clearance.

Will Bruin and Brad Davis, two regulars who travelled with the side, did make cameo appearances in the final twenty minutes.

Projected Lineup

Despite the reversion to the 4-4-2 in the Champions League, Houston should return to the 4-3-3 that has served them so well in the league in recent weeks.

With a relatively clear injury report, and having rested most of their starters midweek, their projected lineup is as follows: Tally Hall in goal; from right to left - Andre Hainault, Bobby Boswell, Jermaine Taylor, and Corey Ashe across the back; Dynamo-once-more Ricardo Clark sitting and the tandem of Oscar Boniek Garcia and Brad Davis ahead of him in midfield; Calen Carr, Will Bruin, and Mac Kandji the attacking trident up top.

football formations

The one question mark is the inclusion of Clark.

A disappointing two-plus-year spell in Europe - Germany, mostly - and the departure of Geoff Cameron to Stoke City, allowed the combative midfielder to return to his former side, where he spent three successful seasons.

Clark would be taking Moffat's regular spot in the midfield, but given the Scotsman's midweek exertions - he played the full ninety - Clark's first start since returning seems in order.

Last Meeting

Toronto and Houston last met on July 28th at BMO Field.

It was a wholly disappointing performance from the Reds; their season-high three-match winning streak fizzled away on goals from Carr and Ching at the end of each half.

Houston began threateningly. Davis played Kandji down the left, taking advantage of Doneil Henry being stationed out of position at right-back. Richard Eckersley, as he often is, was quickly on hand to snuff out the danger.

Further portents of evil intentions followed shortly, with Boswell sneaking between Torsten Frings and his marker, Logan Emory, on a Davis free kick into the box, but his header went over the bar.

For TFC, Henry showed his aerial, attacking prowess, twice getting on the end of Frings corner kicks, but neither really tested the Houston keeper.

In the final ticks of the first half, Davis delivered a left-sided corner kick to the near-post, where Boswell, again losing his marker Emory, flicked it on to the back-post for Carr to nod past a helpless Milos Kocic.

Terry Dunfield was partially to blame, caught ball-watching allowing his mark to get on the end of the flick unchallenged.

TFC offered little by way of a comeback.

Quincy Amarikwa went down in the box under the challenge of Warren Creavalle, but the defender had position on him and stole the ball away before the Toronto forward fell to the ground.

Ryan Johnson was incorrectly whistled for offside on a Houston back-pass, infuriating Mariner and Johnson equally, but in earnest, it was hardly a serious chance.

Some nice work down the left by Garcia and Davis in the final five minutes of the match set up Ching to finalize the result.

Garcia touched a loose ball over Jeremy Hall and drew Aaron Maund towards him before laying Davis down the left. Eckersley was drawn over to cover for the chasing Maund and Ashtone Morgan was slow to react to the danger of Ching streaking down the middle.

A simple ball from Davis, a left-footed strike over Kocic, and Houston had their second - a sliding recovery attempt from Morgan was too late.

The final score: 0-2 to the road team and a lifeless performance from TFC.

Bullet Points

Houston have not lost at home in their last twenty league matches; a run dating back to June 18th of last year.

Toronto must be wary of left-sided corner kicks.

More often than not, they are to the near-post for a streaking defender - Boswell, Taylor, or Hainault - to get a piece of in some manner. The Carr goal against Toronto came from one such play, with Boswell flicking the delivery on to the back-post, while Taylor tried this cheeky move in the home match against New York. Watch how early and easily he breaks away from the pack. TFC must be prepared for such tact; hopefully, they learned their lesson last time.

Will Bruin has not scored in the last six matches, struggling to find the back of the net after compiling impressive numbers in the first half of the season. That spell roughly coincides with the switch to the more fluid - and defensively demanding - 4-3-3.

That being said, he remains a physical force out there; Darren O'Dea will have a battle on his hands. Watch Bruin hold off New York's Holgersson as he collects a Davis ball and has a go at goal.

Much of the Dynamo's good recent run of form can be attributed to the addition of the dynamic Oscar Boniek Garcia, or as he is coming to be known is some Houston circles, OBG.

Toronto must be wary not only of his speed, tenacious physicality, and crisp passing, but also of his curling efforts from outside the box. Terry Dunfield will once again be called upon to put in a good shift.

Kandji's surging runs down the left flank will cause any defense in the league difficulties, luckily his wasteful finishing will spare many of those blushes. Should Eckersley maintain his right-back position, the battle between the two will be epic. Watch as Kandji gets in alone, only to poke it wide.

Houston's danger on the attacking end from set-pieces need not be mentioned, again, but defensively they are capable of switching off on occasion. Twice in the pair of matches against New York, Tim Cahill, renowned for his aerial ability and ninja-like sneakiness, found open headers, while Houston momentarily switched off from a throw in to lead to the opening New York goal in match two.

And like all 4-3-3 formations, space can be an issue if they are caught on the counter attack with numbers committed forward. A single ball can penetrate and exploit a back-line that is not the fleetest of foot. Ashe is quick, so too is Taylor, but Boswell and Hainault lack a little in that department. Watch Columbus' Higuain unlock that back-line with a single, intelligent ball over the top, leading to Gaven's go-ahead goal.

Toronto has shown moments of such quick-fire brilliance - the Luis Silva goal in Columbus and the precise work by Morgan and Eric Hassli in providing for Silva's versus Portland come to mind.

More of that please.

Given how well Tally Hall has filled in the boots of legendary former Houston keeper Pat Onstad over the past two seasons, it is easy to forget how young and inexperienced he is - in goalkeeping terms. One area of his game that still requires attention is his footwork. Watch as he nearly makes a costly hash of this play, though to be fair, anyone would react nervously to having Henry bearing down them like that.

Houston Dynamo Eastern Conference 3rd Place

Points 41 Played 25 Wins 11, Draws 8, Losses 6

Goals For 37 Against 29 Differential +8

Home 8-4-0 (+14) Away 3-4-6 (-6)

You can find more of James Grossi’s insightful ramblings over at Partially Obstructed View and follow him on twitter @Grawsee

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