D.C. United is fighting to remain on top of the Eastern Conference while the Houston Dynamo are fighting to stay in playoff position. These teams meet for the third time this season on Sunday. So what's changed since the last time we paid a visit to BBVA Compass Stadium? We asked that precise question to Zach Woosley of the SB Nation blog Dynamo Theory, and this is his response.
DT: If you look at the records and statistics, it really doesn't appear the Dynamo have changed much since their previous meeting with DC United. Closer examination shows that things have changed. Houston has added a DP right winger in the form of Honduran Boniek Garcia and made tactical shift from Dominic Kinnear's beloved 4-4-2 to a more flexible 4-3-3 (more on that in a minute).
The effect is that the Dynamo are holding stable in the standings but still haven't found their stride yet. There are signs of improvement, but Will Bruin's struggles to adapt to the new formation have stagnated the offense a bit. Brad Davis's influence on the attack seems less, and while Boniek Garcia has shown to be a fantastic talent, full integration with his teammates will take time. At some point, you'd have to think that things will click, the question is quickly becoming if that will happen in time to get Houston over the mediocrity hump they've been teetering on all season.
The tactical change I mentioned before is a big uncertainty. Injuries to Je-Vaughn Watson and Calen Carr, along with Garcia's arrival likely caused the change. With Watson and Carr set to return, we're all wondering if Kinnear will revert back to the 4-4-2. Since I can't attend training sessions, I can't say what they've been up to, so we'll see on Saturday. If they stick with the 4-3-3 (something I'd like to see happen), there's a lot of hope that Watson will be able to better handle the CAM role than Camargo has in that setup.
Then there's the Geoff Cameron situation. Since a transfer has been in the works for over a week, he'll likely continue to remain out of the lineup. Don't get too excited though, Jermaine Taylor has moved in to his role and he's the baddest Jamaican since Mr. Nice Guy. Expect a defensively stingy performance from the Dynamo with who knows what honestly from the offense. We're all in a bit of a wait and see mode at the moment honestly as to when this team can start scoring again.
I gave Zach an update on United as well. Here's my response to his query.
B&RU: Since D.C. United last paid a visit to the Dynamo, much has changed. One perhaps significant change is that the mid-Atlantic has had its fair share of 95+ degree days recently, meaning United will be prepared for the Houston heat this time around. And BBVA Compass Park isn't quite new anymore either, so each of those inherent advantages from our last meeting have disappeared for the Dynamo.
On the field, the biggest difference is that Chris Pontius is suddenly having the best year of his career. He has four goals in his last three matches, and it doesn't even matter where he lines up. He scores as a forward, he scores as a left midfielder, he scores as a right midfielder. With his head, with his right foot, and with his left. But Pontius isn't all the Dynamo will have to watch out for. United may have the more facets to its attack than any other team in the league. If not Pontius, its Dwayne De Rosario. If not him, its Hamdi Salihi, or Maicon Santos, with Branko Boskovic serving the ball in. United isn't easy to score on either. Bill Hamid has assumed his rightful position as one of the top goalkeepers in MLS, and Dejan Jakovic is finally living up to his potential in central defense.
United has five wins and only one loss since falling to the Dynamo in May. That loss came at the hands of the New York Red Bulls in a match that their own coach claimed was the best they'd ever played (and probably will ever play). If the Dynamo want to expect to beat United on Sunday, they may have to play their best ever as well.