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Montreal Impact vs Houston Dynamo: Three Questions with Martek of The Dynamo Theory

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The Three Questions tradition continues on the SBNation Soccer Network as East meets West again. The Montreal Impact is host to the Orange Crush, aka the Houston Dynamo, at Stade Saputo. It was fun and information talking to Martek , Editor at The Dynamo Theory , as fans of both teams will have an insight on the opposite team from an interesting perspective. The guys at The Dynamo Theory know their soccer and I even enriched my English vocabulary :-)

You can find my answers to Martek's questions here.

Sofiane Benzaza of Mount Royal Soccer asks Martek of the Dynamo Theory

1. With so much praise for the Houston Dynamo and having so many highly touted players, is the Houston Dynamo one of the best MLS teams on paper but the standings does not show it yet? If you could summarize the team`s philosophy and beliefs on the pitch, how would you describe to a new MLS fan?

Martek: Good on paper and mediocre on the field is one interpretation of the Dynamo, though perhaps an oversimplification. Head coachDominic Kinnear has over the years put together a strict philosophy of no frills, simple football that, in its reliance on role players fitting in to produce a product far greater than the sum of its parts, has been quite effective.

The Houston Dynamo line up in a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond, and as long as Kinnear is around, that's what they will always do. The formation is interpreted by traditionally having a lock-down defensive unit and active wide play. The fullbacks link up to the wingers, who provide crosses into the box, exploiting the space left over as the opposing defense is pulled out of position. The approach is built on maintaining possession and building from the back. It is rare indeed that Dynamo attack down Route 1, and if they do, it would mean the opposing defenses are having their way with us.

That being said, the Dynamo offense has traditionally worked best when the central attacking midfielder is a highly creative individual, such as Dwayne De Rosario in 2006-08 and then Stuart Holden in 2009. Without this, defenses can sit on the wings, as it were, and service will get denied to the forwards. Dynamo's biggest offensive problems in the past three years have come from a lack of fluency in the CAM role and a deficiency on the right. This was obviated some last year by a career year from Brad Davis on the left wing. Sports traditionally is dominated by the southpaws, and this was certainly true with Davis last year. A natural left-footer, his delivery on set pieces and devastating through balls led him to lead the league by far in assists in 2011 and indeed Dynamo's loss in MLS Cup can be attributed in large part, though certainly not entirely, to Davis' absence.

The thing is that Dynamo have had an above average (for MLS) amount of players serving on national teams. And with the exceptions of De Rosario and Holden, these have not been superstars, but rather role players whose presence on a role-player-heavy, highly successful roster has put them in good stead. In this I'm thinking of Geoff Cameron, Brian Ching, Ricardo Clark, Eddie Robinson and Jermaine Taylor.

2. The Montreal Impact's biggest strengths has been the midfield led by Felipe Martins. Brad Davis seems to be the Dynamo leader in the midfield. How would you see the midfield matchup between both team: on a technical level? physicality? ball possession?

Also how is the Brian Ching - Will Bruin duo working out ?

Martek:

On June 30 at home against Philadelphia, Dynamo will debut its new designated player Oscar Boniek Garcia, a right-sided winger who will finally (so goes the plan) fill the void left by Brian Mullan's exit in 2010. Until then, as noted above, Brad Davis goes, so goes the Houston Dynamo midfield, but with some exceptions. The most notable has been the emergence of Jamaican Je-Vaughn Watson in the CAM role. Watson was known throughout 2011 and early 2012 as the player we all here in Orange-land loved to hate. A whirling dervish of activity, but with little brains and even fewer through balls and set-ups that you must have from a CAM. However, in the last few weeks, Watson is finally showing the form that Dominic Kinnear (and precious few others) felt confident he would produce. Against Toronto Wednesday night, Watson was inserted in the 57th minute. In the first 56 minutes, the Orange offense was disjointed, anemic and easily dispossessed. The Reds were playing us off the pitch, which was as amazing to see as much as it must be for those not there about which to read.

Then came Watson's insertion. He lit a fire in the entire offense, for perhaps the first time completely meriting the No. 10 shirt he wears. Suddenly, the offense was winning and maintaining possession in dangerous positions. The team was playing with an aggression and fire that had been lacking. This continued when Brian Ching came on for Macoumba Kandji a few minutes later. And this goes to your second question there.

Will Bruin co-led the team with five goals last season, in a group that included one other forward (Ching), two defenders (Cameron and Bobby Boswell) and a midfielder (Davis). When he notched his late brace to rescue the point against TFC, he had scored his seventh and eighth, and third in the last two games. The Bruin-Ching partnership has been all Bruin on the scoresheet, and the sophomore is showing signs of getting even better. Ching is the inspirational heart of the Dynamo, the talismanic Orange. This year, he has done well in holding the ball in dangerous spots, playing with his back to goal and occupying central defenders. The one thing he has not done has been scoring, with just one to his name, a no-misser at Columbus, fed by Bruin. His work has really opened up space for Bruin, though. Like with so many older veterans, you just know that Ching will be mostly silent but good for a break-out game here and there that reminds you why he was so good, and how we all here wish he still was. A common thought down here is that Ching's game will come against Montreal after the events of the offseason.

Both Bruin and Ching have tremendous work rates, however, the main thing lacking from the forward tandem is speed. The aggressive Bruin is sneaky quick, but sneaky quick is not pace. And Ching's sneaky quick days are well in the past. Speedy defenders give Ching fits, regularly beating him to loose balls and catching up to him if he gets behind the line. This is not so true with Bruin, though. The pair is strong in the air, a must-have in a team that relies so much on delivery from the wings (and from Davis in particular).

Ching has been spelled so far this year mainly by Macoumba Kandji, who is taller, rangier and pacier, but lacking in the finishing department. Kandji all too often gets stuck with the ball between his feet. He is also strong in the air, but, unlike Ching, he is faster. The Kandji-Bruin pairing, though, has not been as effective, and certainly was lacking against TFC.

3. The Houston Dynamo has played very few games compared to the other teams in the Eastern Conference before the opening of the BBVA Compass Stadium. Was that an advantage to look at what the other teams have done and go from there?

Martek:

The games in hand issue is almost a non-starter at this point as Dynamo have played 14 games, only one less than the Impact and two less than the teams who have played the most. Not only that, but Toronto and the Union have each only played 12 at this point, so they're the ones who might stand to benefit, or would if they weren't so woefully down in the table. If it has any long-term impact it will be in the slightly larger number of home games down the stretch of a long season as opposed to other playoff-contenders.

That being said, it is always an advantage to have some additional data to examine when putting together a game plan. Though I would argue not much of one. I mean, the Impact have played 15 to our 14. If Montreal had played one less game at this point, would Dynamo have a disadvantage when it comes to scouting you guys? I doubt it. After you play a certain amount of games, form matters more than data points.