New York City Football Club head out on the road this weekend to take on Houston Dynamo.
Hi Bruno Baltazar, thanks for speaking with us. How long have you been covering the Dynamo?
I have been officially covering the Dynamo for the second season now, but this is the first fully committed season were we decided to create a website, have a weekly podcast, constant weekly news regarding the Dynamo and previews of the Dynamo weekly opponents. We also added an online museum section dedicated to memorabilia items we have in our collection since the Dynamo doesn’t hold a physical museum.
What has been your highlight in that time?
Being able to report from an inside perspective speaking with players, but still maintaining the original idea - which is dedicating our vision towards every aspect of the gameday experience from fans and supporters’ groups (tailgates) to interesting articles such as memorabilia, or fans collections, to being able to interview former players and current players and talk about interesting topics. Our focus was also breaking down the tactical schemes of the Dynamo and previewing the next teams as well as breaking down the previous matches.
But the highlight is trying to basically piece everyone together and bringing everything Dynamo related, focusing on what other media outlets may not cover, because honestly the coverage of the Dynamo in Houston isn’t what ideally one would think of a major professional team would have and more is needed because this is a soccer town but I believe not enough attention has been paid to the Dynamo.
What were your thoughts on the 2022 season?
It was a season where you saw who was a true fan and who wasn’t. It was more of the same where the Dynamo would dominate most games, but they would lose them by making terrible mistakes.
A season where we kept hearing Herrera would join the Dynamo in the summer and the expectation was to survive until then and fight for the playoffs spots until the summer, because afterwards everything would be fine when Herrera would arrive. But the truth is that there weren’t enough pieces on the roster and Herrera needed time to adapt to the style of play from the team and from the MLS.
I think this league is still trying to figure out, for the most part, their identity and a constant winning recipe, and Herrera was struggling figuring out how to adapt to his teammates and what was being asked of him to do. He ended up trying to do too much, by the time he would have the ball, he would be too exhausted to do the right thing.
When he arrived, we saw the stadium packed but the losses contributed to most fans deciding to not show up to the games, which is why I said, it was a season where you saw the true fans of this team. It was a rebuilding mode for the Dynamo, understanding that change was coming and overturning a program that was once successful doesn’t happen overnight, or with just one major star in your roster.
What are your hopes for the 2023 season?
I think most MLS fans looking from an outside point of view don’t really expect much from the Dynamo, but the general ideal as a supporter and an insider, is that the goal is to make the playoffs and I don’t think anyone is going to make excuses if we don’t make it. There are 9 spots to grab this season rather than the traditional 8 in previous seasons, so that helps.
There has been a lot of change, Ben Olsen joined the team as our new head coach, he decided it was time to build the roster according to his vision and 13 new players arrived and over 15 left - most of them were bench players, but there were others who were starters such as Lundqvist leaving for Austin, Fafa Picault to Nashville, Tim Parker to St.Louis, Zarek Valentin to Minnesota, Darwin Quintero to America in Ecuador, Vera to Argentinos, those were the biggest departures, one of the biggest critiques over the last seasons is why players that leave Houston and underperform here, go on to other teams to play quite well, so that I think this was something that scared the fans during the offseason.
To me, it wasn’t surprising we lost the first two games, being on the road, in difficult weather against New England, and having so many new pieces starting, players still trying to familiarize with each other, this team needs time and this past week win in the home season opener in a Texas derby against Austin really helped building and validating the hard work put so far in the season.
The new signings are showing promise that they might be good signings, Bassi was a decisive player against Austin, as he finally was able to get decent minutes after a small injury he suffered before the first game, Artur is showing amazing skills adding veteran leadership as a defensive midfielder, doing all kinds of dirty work from the back supporting the midfield which over the past seasons struggled defensively and relieving Herrera from having to pressure defensively all the time. Ivan Franco is showing flashes of greatness but needs to be more consistent, but that’s part of the new players coming to the MLS, needing time to build team chemistry under a new head coach and the return of Herrera as the true “capitano” of the team on the field is a major change in this team, for the positive.
What do you think will be the deciding factor in Saturday's game?
I think strategy and the changes of tactical schemes throughout the game is going to be key, I know NYCFC head coach, Nick Cushing is a mastermind changing this throughout the game, especially at halftime if things aren’t working well. I know that the Dynamo might be looking to add more numbers in the midfield to protect their defense, which was an issue in the first two games of the season, leaving too many players open on the second post coming from crosses and major gaps between the lines. I believe NYCFC struggled with balls over the air in the recent match, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Houston protected their defense and tried to capitalize with crosses and corners to score.
Being at home and building from last week’s win will be major for the fans to pull their extra pressure into a young NYCFC team that is still trying to figure out their best tactics as well as the Dynamo is also going through the same experience.
Some players were called by their national teams, Coco Carrasquilla is with Panama, so that’s going to be a big miss for the Dynamo in the midfield, and Chanot for NYCFC in the defense is going to be missed as well, so I think whoever makes less mistakes win the game, but it’s going to be a fun battle looking at the strategy put forth between both coaches, trying to surprise each other.
And for any fans that might be in Houston for the game are there any spots you'd suggest they check out?
I would suggest mingling with Dynamo fans, parking lot C across the stadium is where the tailgates are, the bar Pitch 25 is the place to be a few hours before match day, its within walking distance to the stadium, and owned by former Dynamo player, Brian Ching, so it’s a soccer bar experience.
Visiting the NASA Space Center is a must, it’s a bit outside Houston but it’s always a fun experience to go to. Visiting the Museum of Natural Science or the Fine Arts Museum is always fun as their collection is quite impressive.
Of course, when in Texas, try the BBQ and there’s so many good spots, it would be blasphemy for me to highlight one over any others, but Killen’s, Corkscrew, Tejas Chocolate + BBQ, Pinkerton, Feges are a few of the good spots.
If you like walking, the Buffalo Bayou Park or the Discovery Green in downtown is always a nice spot to enjoy the nature. The Menil collection is a free entrance museum if you are on a budget, or walking thru the shops in the Heights area is another good spot to be, and if you like taking selfies don’t forget to go to the Gerald D. Hines Waterwall.
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