NYCFC have some momentum as they return to their travels, with the Boys in Blue unbeaten in three straight matches following their opening-day loss in Nashville. Two straight home wins at Yankee Stadium against Eastern Conference foes quieted much of the pessimistic talk of 2023 being a “rebuilding season” for NYCFC, but MLS road ties against non-conference opposition always present unique challenges.
An added wrinkle for this meeting in the Bayou City is that it falls during a FIFA international break, meaning both NYCFC and Houston will be missing regular starters. There’s not a ton of history between the two teams, as this will be their first meeting since 2019 and just their sixth overall. NYCFC has two wins, two draws, and one loss across those previous five meetings.
Match: NYCFC at Houston Dynamo
Date and Time: Saturday, March 25, 8:30 pm ET; Kickoff at 8:39 pm ET
Venue: Shell Energy Stadium
Bruce Arena Forecast: Seasonably warm, 78˚F/25˚C
Watch: Apple TV MLS Season Pass (subscription required)
Broadcast Team: Mark Rogondino (former play-by-play announcer for LAFC) and Heath Pearce (former USMNT/MLS player)
Listen: English and Spanish broadcasts on NYCFC Radio
Officiating Crew: Guido Gonzales Jr (Referee), Brooke Mayo and Walt Heatherly (Assistant Referees), Danielle Chesky (4th Official), Jose Carlos Rivero (VAR), Gjovalin Bori (Assistant VAR)
• NYCFC player availability: Maxime Chanot and Mitja Ilenič are away on international duty and will miss the match in Houston. Otherwise Nick Cushing reported that the team had a clean bill of health, though the official injury report has yet to be released and could always include a last-second surprise.
• Who will be in the Starting XI? It’s more difficult to predict this week, specifically NYCFC’s back line. The absence of Chanot looms large, as it forces NYCFC into its first rotation at center back this season. Will Tony Alfaro make his NYCFC debut in a like-for-like swap for Chanot, or will Cushing get experimental and change formations? Hudson River Blue senior editor Andrew Leigh wrote about the important questions that will be answered by lineup decisions made sans Chanot, which you can read here.
• Is Richy Ledezma ready for his debut? The American midfielder was finally confirmed as a loan signing for NYCFC through the remainder of the 2023 season. He was reportedly with his new club in training all week (and made a cameo in a pre-Houston hype video the club released before his official signing was announced), and is said to be available for selection vs. the Dynamo. Could he be in line for a debut, perhaps as an attack-minded second half sub?
• Houston player availability. The Dynamo have four players completely unavailable. Left back Brad Smith is out injured, while midfielders Adalberto Carrasquilla and Juan Castilla, and goalkeeper Xavier Valdez will be absent on international duty. Right back Franco Escobar is also listed as questionable with a super specific “lower body injury.”
Oppo Research: Houton Dynamo Q&A with Bayou City Soccer’s Duncan Richardson
Hudson River Blue: Who should NYCFC fans watch out for in this game? Who is the Houston dangerman?
Duncan Richardson: Hector Herrera. The Mexican star was brought in to be that dangerman for Houston, but he struggled last season. Now with the World Cup behind him and all his focus on the Dynamo, Herrera has been world-class. He’s pulling all the strings in the midfield and even scored his first MLS goal last weekend in the win over Austin.
HRB: What are Houston’s vulnerabilities?
DR: The Dynamo fullbacks remain a big question mark. Franco Escobar was brought in to be the starting right back but early struggles and injury have seen him pushed down the depth chart. Daniel Steres, who is a natural center back, started at right back last weekend and Griffin Dorsey has been getting minutes. Tate Schmitt has been starting at left back while Brad Smith recovers from injury and Djevencio van der Kust gets up to fitness.
HRB: What’s the X factor that could decide this game?
DR: Amine Bassi looks to be the X factor for Houston this season. The Moroccan was signed this offseason, but got hurt in preseason, recovering for his first start in the win over Austin. Bassi scored a penalty kick in the game, but his ability to unlock defenses and generate scoring chances is going to be huge this week and throughout the season. Striker Sebas Ferreira scored 13 goals last season and that was without any real playmakers around him. Now with Bassi in the fold, he will be a big factor in just how good this Dynamo offense can be.