When Erick “Cubo” Torres joined the Houston Dynamo in July, the question on many people’s minds was how he would fit into head coach Owen Coyle’s lineup.
Even more to the point, how Torres would fit with the Dynamo’s leading scorer, Will Bruin?
The answer came two weeks ago when Torres and Bruin lined up alongside each other in a 4-4-2 formation to a great payoff in a 2-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“I think it’s fair to say that when we put Will and Erick together, I think they worked hard together, but I think there’s more to come from them,” Coyle said. “They’ll get another opportunity because Erick will start again against [Real Salt Lake, at home on Saturday, 7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS] with Will, so that’s another opportunity for them to play together. They showed in the Vancouver game they can take up those goalscoring positions. I’m pretty sure the two of them together are capable of scoring goals.”
Putting the two in the lineup at the same time was a departure from Coyle’s usual formation. While attacking midfielder Giles Barnes often played an advanced role, Coyle’s team has resembled one that’s played with a lone striker where Bruin was left to battle the opposing center backs and secondary runs came from deeper positions.
Against the Whitecaps, while each player had the ability to drop off, it was more the traditional two-striker formation.
“I think it allowed us to get up the field a little bit more; get the ball into dangerous areas,” Dynamo captain Brad Davis said. “For me, it made things a little bit more in the way I used to play in the past. When you have those two guys in the box, I’m able to get wide more and get some service into the box, and you have two targets you know should be in there.
“It felt like a game of the past I guess you could say in a little bit of a sense.”
Davis is referring to Houston’s usual tactics under former head coach Dominic Kinnear as a consistent and successful 4-4-2 team.
The move paid off as Houston were able to open up the attack more, but the Dynamo also know it’s a work in progress.
After playing so long with one forward, adapting to each other had its bumpy moments, which saw them overlap on runs and decision-making at times.
But the pair showed a good work ethic and, most importantly, has a desire to play together.
“We played the solo forward all year, so it’s definitely a little different when you’re playing with somebody up top,” Bruin said. “The two of us like to play that center forward role, but we’re willing to tweak our game a little bit … us talking, we both want to play with each other and combining. It’s just time, we’ll get our spacing right. When you’ve been playing one way all year, it’s kind of hard to just flip the switch and have everything down pat. I think we’ll get it sorted out.”
They’ll need the change to work quickly.
Houston currently sit six points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with seven games to go. Those are steep odds, but they're not insurmountable. While the players on Friday would not venture a point total that would get them into the postseason, the feeling is there are not many to give up, especially at home.
And even though they enjoyed a weekend off from game action, Torres was away with the Mexican U-23 national team where he played in three games in preparation for CONCACAF Olympic qualifying, which Coyle believes will help him return to match fitness.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.