Wednesday night at Shell Energy Stadium, the Vancouver Whitecaps will take on the Houston Dynamo in a Western Conference matchup that sees the 4th and 5th placed teams face one another.
Vancouver is red-hot so far on their extended road trip, securing 10 of a possible 12 points over their last 4 matches. Meanwhile, Houston has been a juggernaut at home this season, sporting a 9-3-2 record on their own pitch. When these two teams met at BC Place back at the end of May, it was a chaotic affair, especially early, with each team scoring twice inside the opening twenty minutes. In the end though, Vancouver dominated the second half, scoring four unanswered goals, taking the contest 6-2 at full time.
Houston is on a very good run of form at the moment, like the Whitecaps, hitting their stride as they make a push for a top playoff place. The Dynamo are undefeated in their last six matches in MLS play, including a five-match shutout streak that only recently ended with a single goal from St. Louis this past weekend, in a 1-1 draw. Impressively, Houston has allowed just 3.3 xG against over those last six matches. For comparison, Vancouver has allowed 7.1 xG against over that same period. Needless to say, the Dynamo have found some real defensive form, so it will be a good challenge for Vancouver to see if they can break down one of the best defensive teams in MLS at the moment.
After 10 years in DC, Ben Olson has stepped into the Houston job as manager and provided some stability that they have not often enjoyed as a franchise. Olson is the 5th manager of the Dynamo since 2019, but along with former Canadian International Pat Onstad as General Manager (who joined in 2021), it appears that the Dynamo are now doing their best to build a long-term future with this management group. Long story short, there appears to be some optimism in Houston, which is great to see.
In terms of the squad itself, Amine Bassi and Corey Baird have been the main goal-scoring threats for Houston, with 9 and 7 goals respectively. Bassi, a 25-year-old Frenchman, has been a great addition to this Dynamo team after he struggled to find a place in a relegation-bound Metz team in France. Bassi had several strong seasons with Nancy in League 2 prior, but had struggled to make a big step forward in his progression until now. Having payed around 1.5 million for his services, Bassi appears to have been a nice value acquisition for Houston.
In terms of playmaking, Hector Herrera is the real danger man, as he has 3 goals and 9 assists. Finally, despite having a really poor match in Vancouver back in May, Steve Clark has been holding things down pretty well between the sticks for Houston, even at 37 years old, although he is a bit of a mercurial keeper, as we know well from his Portland Timbers days.
Flipping things over to Vancouver, Vanni Sartini noted Monday that both Sam Adekugbe and Andres Cubas would be in consideration for minutes this week, having been held out this past weekend due to injury. Although with the recent form of Ryan Raposo, I wonder if Sartini will wait until the weekend to re-insert Adekugbe into the lineup (it also sounds like his injury concerns are slightly more serious than those for Andres). Additionally, Junior Hoilett has been ramping up to speed at training, and with limited matches left on the schedule, I have to imagine we will see at least a cameo from him in this one.
Elsewhere on the roster, Pedro Vite and Ali Ahmed continue to duel for minutes in midfield, while Sartini will have a choice to make between Javain Brown and Mathias Laborda as Vancouver’s third centreback. With both teams flying high at the moment, at least one of them is due for a setback Wednesday night. I think that Vancouver is the better team, but securing a result in the Houston heat is always a challenge. Given this, I’ll go for a result that will leave both teams unsatisfied: a 1-1 draw.