MLS Cup Preview: Dynamo’s O versus Revs’ D

Welcome to this, my last MLS Cup preview, where I’ll turn my (divided) attention to how the Houston Dynamo’s offense matches up with the New England Revolution defense.  I’m burning out ever so slightly on this project, less because it doesn’t interest me than it only feels like more blah-blah-blahing as we get closer to the point where all the talk becomes immediately irrelevant – e.g. kick off.  On the upside, this will be my shortest selection…I hope.

Before getting into my copy, I want to flag Allen Hopkins’ (exceedingly lazy) column for ESPN, the one where he turns over his space to an anonymous player and coach and has them breakdown the game (nice work if you can find it).  At any rate, that both seem to favor New England is only the most curious part of an interesting read.

But that’s there stuff.  Here mine…which, not surprisingly low-balls the Revs’ chances:

I’ve already gone into how Houston likes to attack – e.g. down the flanks through Brad Davis and Brian Mullan, thereby opening space for Dwayne DeRosario in the middle, blah, blah, blah.  What I haven’t yet acknowledged is that they’re quite adept at making this work, especially when they compact the field just inside the half and get into the quick rhythm passing that discombobulates the defense ahead of penultimate ball that leads to the final ball, etc.  When it works, it’s damned hard to stop.

I think New England is fairly well equipped to cope with that, though only from a strictly defensive point of view.  By that I mean, if the Revs wind up laying back – whether by choice or circumstance – I’m highly confident they could contain Houston through a couple games.  On the flanks, Smith can certainly keep up with Mullan and having Avery John behind him only makes this easier; while I’m admittedly more worried about Wade Barrett and Brad Davis versus Wells Thompson and Jay Heaps, my worries would fly out the window if Thompson and Heaps lay back.  That said, I’d rather have my worries than (half-) secretly loathe my team for playing like a six-pack of chickenshits.

If there’s one part of the field I don’t worry about regardless of the Revs’ posture (e.g. attacking, defensive, etc.) it’s the middle of the field.  To put it bluntly, there be dragons (e.g. Shalrie Joseph, Jeff Larentowicz).  Perhaps I’d feel differently if Dwayne DeRosario wasn’t having such a tepid year.  In the grand scheme, so long as the Revs get set and organized, Houston’s going to have a hard, hard time.  They haven’t faced a defense this sound throughout the post-season and, let’s face it, the Dynamo’s several scoreless stretches say something.

Turning to the forwards, most everyone thinks Brian Ching won’t start, or that he might not play at all (against that, the Houston Chronicle has some video of an optimistic Ching).  Assuming he does not play – or assuming that, if he does play, he’ll be limited – the focus belongs on Nate Jaqua and Joseph Ngwenya.  As much as I like Jaqua – and I’ve been pulling for him since his University of Portland days – I can’t shake the feeling that he hasn’t yet figured out how to get the best out of himself.  Without elaborating on that, let’s just say that, while Jaqua is far from useless, he’s not the one I worry about.  That’d be Ngwenya.  If there’s a stock in low supply in the Revs’ back line it’s fleetness of foot.  A ball over the top – perhaps one sent with the Revs pushed up in the attack – has a fair chance of being lethal.

Even assuming a set-and-ready Revs’ defense, I think it’s quick movement and running that makes me most nervous.  Between DeRosario, Ngwenya, and Mullan, the Dynamo have the players to make the Revs’ defenders dizzy.  This plays into one of my chief perceptions of the Revolution back-line: it’s essentially cardiac nature.  I don’t know whether it’s the three-defender set up, or using ‘keeper Matt Reis as a “’keeper-sweeper,” but watching the Revs defend makes me nucking futs.  Huge, horrible gaps seem ever-present, holes that open and close as frenetic defenders throw themselves from one to the one they just plugged; these gaps only need someone fleet enough to slip and score…and yet…and yet…Reis always seem to be there clutching the ball when the dust clears.  I don’t know how it happens, but it seems to – and reliably.  Put another way, I view the Revs defense with something akin to faith: I have no idea how it works, it just does.

So, what’s the point of all that?  I worry that DeRosario, Ngwenya, or Mullan will be that “someone fleet enough” come Sunday.  Failing that, I worry about Jaqua accidentally pairing up against Michael Parkhurst on a corner or free-kick.  In short, dangers abound – more so if the Revs play to win…as opposed to playing not to lose.

To move to a larger point, the Revs should play to win.  The longer Houston lurks near the Revs’ area, the likelier a fluky piece of work – oh, like Ching’s equalizer in the 2006 Cup – steals a goal for the Dynamo.  And the Dynamo is good enough that giving them any help is the wrong way to go.

Up next, my prediction for the final.

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2 Responses

  1. Jeff Bull, an excellent take on the various matchups here. I have only one thing to add, which is perhaps not flattering to my side but I give to you as a hand for all of your work so far this week here. Ngwenya is indeed quite fleet of foot and I think he will get several good looks on Sunday. However, his finishing leaves plenty to be desired. Ngwenya can look awesome, as with his goal of the year finalist, but he can also look awesome and then miss, as has happened quite often. Now personally, I think he is over this and will show it Sunday. But if you’re looking for something to hang your hopes on (you and Jimmy that is), here is something for you.

    I really don’t think a three-man back line can beat Dynamo, which goes back to the central role I think Shalrie Joseph will have to play to stop my lads. If DDR stops trying to create the low-percentage, perfect play, breaks free of Shalrie and you have he, Ngwenya and Jaqua on the full run with Davis and Mullan racing down the sides, it might be a long afternoon slog on Kraft’s buses back to Gilette.

    Thanks again for the great match-ups all week. It’s been fun reading and writing. You guys have a great site over here (though I’d like it if you’d add the Scottish Premier League crest to your banner). And though I know there’s no cheering in the press box, I’ll end with a respectful Viva Naranja and “see” you guys Monday.

  2. It’s been fun, Martek. Glad to have the added perspective and occasional reality check.

    I’ve seen these misses of which you speak, but I give Ngwenya more credit than you do; any non-starting player in the 8-10 goal range is something to worry about and I’m pretty sure Ngwenya is there (can’t confirm; MLSnet is choking on all the people trying to catch the State of the League). And, as for the three-man back line, that’s what I’m alluding to in the above with regard to the Revs’ posture: if Smith and Thompson stay home by and large (willingly or not) the Revs effectively become a five-man back line – and that’s before counting Joseph and Larentowicz. It’s if and when the Revs open things up that I worry about the mismatch.

    Right. That said, there’s nothing to do but wait for Sunday. Good luck to your bunch…but not too much of it.

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