Deconstructing the Houston Dynamo’s success

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The Houston Dynamo is the plain Jane minivan of professional soccer: it never looks very exciting, but the doggone thing gets the job done with minimal fuss and distraction.

Four MLS Cup finals appearances in seven years (including two championships) is all the evidence you need, compelling data that says things generally work right for the men in orange.

Layer in the context of a roster rarely adorned with high-profile, high-priced figures, and the organizational success that has marked this club since its 2006 arrival into South Texas becomes even more impressive.

How can the club keep winning battles when so often devoid of heavy weapons? It’s about Dominic Kinnear, about the locker room and (mostly) about the blessedness of unbending accountability.

Kinnear himself jokes about his team’s straight-forward style, about the open orange book, one with no secrets worth keeping. Stylistically, they play quickly out of the back with minimal side-to-side movement; there’s not much possession for possession’s sake. Sooner rather than later, they want something direct into a big striker (it’s always been a land of big strikers). This is why Kinnear’s side never require a central playmaker, per se, although an aggressive slasher type (Dwayne De Rosario, Stuart Holden, Oscar Boniek Garcia) that can break down defenses is always helpful.

They’ll go wide and look for service when possible – although maybe not as much as you might think. By getting forward without much namby-pampying around, the Dynamo win their share of corner kicks and free kicks. And then … well, then Brad Davis.

On defense, it’s about shape, effort, tracking, tackling, challenging religiously for every ball, winning second balls and, mostly, a relentless pursuit of doing all of the above without the toxicity of killer mistakes. That is the accountability.

It’s not that other teams aren’t attempting all the same things; it’s that Houston is more dogged in never accepting the teeny-tiniest lapse.

Kinnear is a master of demanding things go a certain way. Technical mistakes may happen, but boo-boos born of sloth or inattention simply are not tolerated. Do it wrong and someone lets you know about it.

If a Houston Dynamo man looks like he’s thinking about not tracking back on defense, Kinnear is off the bench screaming at him. (That goes for an MLS Cup final seen by thousands or a preseason friendly in Arizona, seen only by me and about four local parks workers.)

If a wide midfielder of forward isn’t tucking in quickly enough on the weak side, Kinnear comes up hollering.

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The defender who clears a ball into the wrong spot … the midfielder who is slow to pursue a second ball … the goalkeeper who doesn’t communicate information quickly enough to his teammates … well, you get the idea.

It’s a demanding, daily grind – and it only works with the right kind of locker room. That’s where prudent roster construction comes in.  Kinnear and his assistants aren’t just scanning for talent, they always seek talent that is willing to “buy in.”

They must be men who don’t mind being held accountable, and men who will remind others about that uncompromising responsibility to faithfully toe the line. Fact is, some athletes (some people in general) just don’t want to be told they did something wrong, or may lash out defensively when told they aren’t putting enough effort into the enterprise.

Build a locker room with the right kind character, and things pretty much police themselves.

Generally speaking, Houston Dynamo men can be counted on to check their personal ambition at the BBVA Compass door; once through the gate, it’s about the collective. And when someone loses the orange-colored plot, Kinnear will be there to set them straight.

Southgate: Kane, Sterling setting England example on, off the field

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Perhaps Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling aren’t leaders in the most traditional sense — grizzled veterans who have been around the block and seen everything there is to see — but nevertheless, they’re the ones setting the example for England’s next generation of young stars, many of whom aren’t so much younger than they are.

[ MORE: Eric Dier out of England squad, back at Spurs with another injury ]

It’s clear for all to see that Kane and Sterling are leading and inspiring the Three Lions with their on-field performances, for club and for country — they have 55 goals and 19 assists between them since August — but to hear Gareth Southgate speak of their leadership off the field, one can’t help but feel the England program has been entrusted to very safe hands — quotes from the Guardian:

“To have such a top striker, like Harry, who has such humility and such a low ego, has a huge impression on the whole group, because at the moment he is the star player. You wouldn’t know it from the way he conducts himself, you wouldn’t know it from his application to training and the way he is disciplined with his preparation and his focus.

“Equally, that’s the same for Raheem. You see his focus in training, his preparation for those things, so for young players coming on it’s an easy equation: if I do the things those two do, there’s a good chance that I’ll get the performances that they are putting in.”

It’s certainly a new concept that players could be the undisputed leaders of the England squad at 25 and 24 years old, respectively — particularly to Southgate, who came through the England setup in the 1990s — but it’s something he’s been quick to embrace.

“I think young people in all walks of society have a little bit more belief. I think bosses in all industries are less draconian in the way they work, and I think that helps youngsters to come in and be more creative and believe they can make a difference. They don’t baulk at anything. I just think, generally speaking, given an opportunity, they’ll go and surprise people.”

“(During Southgate’s career) You were told: ‘Don’t get carried away, you’ve got to earn your right to play, you’ve got to earn your right to do this. Did that get the most out of us? Probably not. There were some great qualities that gave us, and we’ve got to make sure we don’t lose that, because respect is important, as is appreciation of what you’ve got, but equally, we want to let talent have its head.”

In particular, 17-year-old Jadon Sancho already views Sterling as a hero, a mentor and a friend. Asked whether Sterling “was now one of the daddies of the team”:

“Yeah,” the 18-year-old replied, his face lighting up as he began his eulogy. “His numbers are crazy this year, and he’s showing all the youngsters what it’s about. I’m just happy that I’m sharing a pitch with him.”

Orlando City wins as Kljestan downs thin NY Red Bulls side

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Sacha Kljestan came back to bite his former club as his 72nd minute goal provided a 1-0 victory for an otherwise poor Orlando City side over a New York Red Bulls squad looking thin during the international break.

With Aaron Long and Michael Murillo away on international duty and Florian Valot to a recently torn ACL, the Red Bulls welcomed Orlando City to Red Bull Arena already struggling for depth. Then, just 20 minutes into the match, defender Connor Lade was forced off due to injury. He might have been given a bit longer to recover and return to the match, but New York came close to conceding while reduced to 10 men, so Omir Fernandez was summoned off the bench.

While the Red Bulls seemed to have control of the match, they weren’t exactly of high quality. The hosts managed just four shots on target through the match and completed just five passes in the penalty area all game. The left flank for New York was especially devoid of creativity as all four key passes came from the right. Marc Rzatkowski picked up three of those four key passes, while Daniel Royer, Alex Muyl, and Vincent Bezecourt failed to record any. Bezecourt had an extremely poor match, with just six completed passes in 60 minutes of play before he came off in favor of young Mathias Jorgensen.

As the second half dragged along, Orlando City surprisingly went in front as Kljestan reached a cross by Joao Moutinho at the far post that was likely meant for Dom Dwyer, but as it skittered behind the striker, Kljestan was there streaking in from midfield to meet the ball and strike it home.

New York began to feel a sense of urgency after the goal, and nearly equalized in the 82nd minute but Orlando City defender Carlos Ascues was on hand to clear the ball off the line. Things would get much worse on the injury front for New York, as Fernandez required a substitute himself in the 80th minute before Alex Muyl came off in stoppage time with the Red Bulls already out of subs. Muyl came back on the field, but he initially had signaled for a substitute before realizing they were out.

The loss leaves New York with just three points through the season’s first three matches and sees them fail to take hold of an opportunity against a poor opponent at home. Orlando City, meanwhile, earns its first win of the campaign and jumps above New York into fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Youthful FC Dallas side earns home win over Colorado

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The kids are alright in Dallas as a 2-1 win over Colorado pushed them into the mix near the top of the Western Conference standings four games into the 2019 season.

The Dallas starting 11 included five homegrown players and included 18-year-old Jesus Ferreira as well as 18-year-old Edwin Cerrillo and 19-year-old Paxton Pomykal. 20-year-old Reggie Cannon and 21-year-old Pablo Aranguiz also manned the midfield, making goalscorer Michael Barrios feel like an old man at 27.

And yet, it was Barrios who opened the scoring just past the half-hour mark. He received the ball near the top of the box and let rip a speculative effort, contorting his body awkwardly to get power on a near-post shot, and it was enough to slip by Tim Howard.

Colorado pulled level in the 69th minute as Tommy Smith chested the ball into the back of the net with Jesse Gonzalez on the ground. VAR gave it a look but determined Smith did not handle the ball as he was on his knees on the doorstep.

Sticking with the home side’s theme, FC Dallas brought 17-year-old academy product Thomas Roberts off the bench, and it was he who helped create the winner. His assist to fellow sub Zdenek Ondrasek fed the latter with a shot, and while that was saved, Ryan Hollingshead was on hand to slot the ball home.

Euro 2020 qualifiers: Italy, Spain, Switzerland all secure wins

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Sergio Ramos provided the winner from the spot as Spain took home a 2-1 win over Norway in Valencia. Rodrigo bagged the opener 16 minutes in, volleying home Jordi Alba’s floated baseline cross. Alvaro Morata nearly bagged a headed goal just past the half-hour mark as part of a ruthless first-half onslaught by the home side, but Rune Jarstein made a fabulous stop. Alba then nearly had his own, putting it into the back of the net but pulled back for the offside flag.

The hosts would rue not taking their first-half opportunities as Norway would pull level after the break as Inigo Martinez toppled over substitute Bjorn Johnsen in the box on a set-piece. Bournemouth attacker Joshua King slotted it home from the spot and evened the score. That wouldn’t last long though, as Spain moved back in front just six minutes later with Ramos from the spot as Jarstein came off his line on a Spain break and scythed Morata down, delivering a cheeky Panenka down the middle.

Italy went wire-to-wire to top Finland 2-0 in Udine. 22-year-old Cagliari midfielder Nicolo Barella opened things up in the seventh minute with a deflected volley that found its way past Lukas Hradecky. Finland could only manage a single shot on target the entire way through, with Teemu Pukki badly missing wide in the 65th minute with their best opportunity, and Italy secured the win with a second goal 10 minutes later. 19-year-old Moise Kean made a perfect run through the two center-backs and Ciro Immobile delivered an incredible ball to slice them up, with the teen needing just one touch to slot it home for his first international goal on his first start.

Edin Dzeko earned his 100th cap, but 24-year-old Deni Milosevic was the biggest winner as he provided the eventual winner for Bosnia & Herzegovina who picked up a 2-1 win over Armenia. Rade Krunic put the hosts 1-0 up past the half-hour mark in Sarajevo, and then Milosevic struck with 10 minutes to go, streaking down the middle to meet Edin Visca’s long cross from the right. Henrikh Mkhitaryan slotted home a penalty in the third minute of stoppage time but it was nothing more than a consolation.

Greece flew to a 2-0 win over Lichtenstein in Vaduz as Konstantinos Fortounis and Anastasios Donis delivered the strikes. The first came at the stroke of halftime, brilliantly volleying a laser beam delivery from Dimitrios Kourbelis. The second came with 10 minutes to go with Donis firing home sealing the victory. It was elementary for the visitors, holding 73% possession and holding Liechtenstein without a single shot on target on just three total efforts.

Ireland topped Gibraltar 1-0 in Mick McCarthy’s first game back as manager. On a windy day at Victoria Stadium in Gibraltar, Ireland held 63% possession but could only manage three shots on target, picking up a 49th minute winner off the foot of Jeff Hendrick who came streaking down the middle to meet David McGoldrick’s cross from the left.

Sweden held off a late comeback from Romania to win 2-1 in Stockholm. Mainz striker Robin Quaison bagged the opener just past the half-hour mark with a wonderful touch on the outside of his foot at the near post. They doubled the lead through Victor Claesson just seven minutes later as Quaison’s cross was deflected right to his feet near the top of the box and he fired past Ciprian Tatarusanu. Romania scored just before the hour mark but it proved just a consolation as they couldn’t find an equalizer.

It was an elementary day for Switzerland who topped Georgia 2-0 behind second-half goals from Steven Zuber and Denis Zakaria. Switzerland was dominant from start to finish, pumping off 25 shots with eight on target and holding the hosts to just a single shot on target among six total efforts.

RESULTS

Spain 2-1 Norway
Italy 2-0 Finland
Bosnia & Herzegovina 2-1 Armenia
Lichtenstein 0-2 Greece
Gibraltar 0-1 Republic of Ireland
Sweden 2-1 Romania
Georgia 0-2 Switzerland
Malta 2-1 Faroe Islands