HOUSTON—Wilmer Cabrera hasn’t been shy about making multiple changes to his Houston Dynamo starting XI this season.
In 34 regular-season games, Cabrera utilized 32 different starting lineups. That trend continued in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Knockout Round, where the Dynamo defeated Sporting KC 1-0 in a grueling 120-minute showdown.
The win propelled La Naranja to the Western Conference Semifinals and a date with No. 1 seeds the Portland Timbers.
But with AJ DeLaGarza out for the season, Leonardo sidelined with a left leg injury he picked up against Sporting KC and the wear and tear of extra-time playoff soccer, significant changes will likely have to be made to the Houston lineup when the series opens Monday night (9:30 pm ET | FS1; TVAS, TSN GO).
“It’s 33 different lineups in 35 games; that demonstrates that we’ve made changes, for whatever the circumstances may have been, but we’ve been successful,” Cabrera said. “The guys know that this is a possibility [not playing], so they aren’t surprised … everybody is fundamental and we count on them all.”
It’s noteworthy how Cabrera has managed his attacking options this season, of which there are plenty.
Houston has 11 players on its roster that have played in an attacking position this season. The Dynamo have played a 4-3-3 formation, though it sometimes looks like a 4-2-3-1, for most games, almost always including four attackers. In 35 games this season, Cabrera has picked 21 different variations from the 11 aforementioned players to fit the four attacking spots in the starting lineup.
The combination Cabrera utilized the most, four times, was Mauro Manotas, Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres, Andrew Wenger and Alex. The next-most used combination, three times, was Torres, Romell Quioto, Alberth Elis and Alex. Knowing that he’ll have to make changes, does Cabrera have an idea of what lineup, and in particular, what attackers he’ll be trotting out?
“Me? Of course, I have an idea,” said Cabrera, jokingly, before adding he won’t reveal that information.
Cabrera said that the lineup he does opt for has been thought out and calculated. And no matter who starts, he knows those who didn’t will be ready to energize the team when inserted into the game.
“We hope that the ones who enter the game [as a sub] can make a difference in the game, because that’s who this team is,” Cabrera said.
“It’s been our advantage and the signature of the team. That everybody works hard and the ones who enter the game are motivated to make a difference, and they do make a difference.”
The four-headed monster of Torres, Elis, Manotas and Quioto has accounted for 41 of the Dynamo’s 57 goals this season. The Dynamo hope that trend continues against the Timbers on Monday in the first leg.