Atlanta United will host Houston on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
The Five Stripes (3-4-3) are coming off a 1-1 tie at Portland, while Portland (5-3-3) was beaten by Philadelphia 2-0 on Wednesday.
Each week, I ask a beat reporter for the opposing team five questions. Corey Roepken of the Houston Chronicle was gracious enough to do so this week. Roepken is in his second year covering the Dynamo and MLS. He can be found on Twitter @RipSports.
1. What the heck is going on in Houston? What has been the biggest factor in the team’s success?
A: A roster overhaul included the acquisitions of Honduran wingers Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis. They have breathed abundant life into a team that often never even tried to score last season because the attacking talent was not there. First-year coach Wilmer Cabrera has been perfect. His impact is all over the club, but the most significant result he has won has been the ability to get something out of 2014 MLS All-Star Erick Torres, who after not scoring any goals the last two seasons, enters this week with an MLS-leading total of eight. Playing seven of their first 10 games at home has helped, too.
2. What is making Alberth Elis so dangerous in MLS?
A: He’s next-level fast. His take-on ability is unmatched. He can score in varying fashion, including ripping shots from decent distance at tough angles like the one against Orlando City SC. He is dangerous on the pass, too, as viewers witnessed on his assist to Quioto against Portland. There is a reason he is only on loan. His Monterrey transfer fee, though unknown to the public, has to be too high for the Dynamo to consider paying it without seeing him in their environment.
3. How is Ricardo Clark, an Atlanta native, adapting to the new systems?
A: Rico’s seasons of playing 90 minutes every week are gone, but he is a regular starter and was Cabrera’s easy choice for captain. Despite the fact he is 34 he is not backing down from doing dirty work in defending and trying to win the ball back. The Dynamo don’t ask their midfielders to possess the ball much, and Rico has done well to pump the ball forward as quickly as possible. Many believe the Dynamo need another dominant midfielder to challenge for a championship, but even if they don’t get one, Rico is still has plenty left to keep them on their current path of being a contender.
4. What is the matchup to watch?
A: The biggest advantage the Dynamo have every week is their wingers against the opponent’s fullbacks. Tyrone Mears and Greg Garza need to be on top of their games because if the Dynamo use their trusty 4-3-3 formation and tactics the Atlanta fullbacks are going to be in for perhaps their biggest combined challenge of the season. If they back off to give space to Quioto and Elis then they’ll have to worry about getting dribbled at or closing down before the wingers can hit a curling shot from distance. If they stay close then they have to worry about getting burned by Quioto and Elis’ speed.
5. Any injury updates that may affect the outcome?
A: Elis strained his right hamstring in last week’s game against Vancouver and is listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game at Philadelphia. The safe bet is that the Dynamo sit him Wednesday to give him a better chance to play Saturday in Atlanta. If he does not play in Atlanta and the Dynamo use their 4-3-3, his replacement will be Mauro Manotas. Manotas has scored three goals this season and has three multi-goal games in his last 10 starts dating back to last season.