Opening Night win answers questions asked of Houston Dynamo in preseason
Some teams false-started on the opening weekend of the MLS season, but the Dynamo came out of the blocks like 100-meter runners in an Olympic final. Their task now is to replicate last weekend's performance this Saturday when the Montreal Impact come to town (7:30 p.m. CT. TICKETS).
Will Bruin scored after 63 seconds, then again with 13 minutes gone. Boniek García made it 3-0 after 23 minutes and Omar Cummings deflected in a Ricardo Clark shot at the end to put an even shinier gloss on the victory over the New England Revolution.
"I thought the first half an hour you could say it’s the best I’ve ever seen this team play, and that’s saying something," head coach Dominic Kinnear told reporters after the match. That is a noteworthy comment from a head coach not prone to hyperbole who is approaching his 350th match in charge.
Player after player lined up in preseason to tell the media that they felt especially good about the team's potential and progress heading into the campaign. The way they talked went beyond the optimism and hope that comes as standard from every player on every team at this time of year.
That the players were as confident and ready as they predicted was proven by the way they tore into New England from the first kick, full of energy but also demonstrating the kind of sharp interplay you see from teammates who know each other well—such as the movement for García's goal, which has been nominated as an AT&T Goal of the Week candidate.
Afterwards, Giles Barnes talked about the importance of having a full 2013 season and 2014 preseason up front with Bruin. Seven of New England's starting line-up at BBVA Compass Stadium did not start their final game of last season, compared with five players for Houston.
Another pre-match discussion topic was the need to be deadlier in front of goal this season. That aim was quickly realized thanks to Bruin. The Dynamo's early goals meant that the destiny of the points was all but decided before halftime and there was to be no hand-wringing about missed chances, no anxiety about failing to capitalize on a purple patch and letting opponents back into the contest.
There was an unusually high number of attempts on goal. According to official match statistics the Dynamo's total of 20 shots was only one more than their opponents. But of New England's 19 attempts, only two were on target compared with the Dynamo's nine.
A clean sheet and a blowout win in front of a sell-out home crowd: it was an ideal debut for defender David Horst, who made his first MLS appearance since getting injured against the Dynamo on April 6 last year as a member of the Portland Timbers.
"My first game in 11 months since my injury, it was just awesome to get out there in front of a great crowd with a great team and put in a good performance," he told HoustonDynamo.com.
"It definitely exceeded my expectations. My first half, playing in front of the rowdy fans, I couldn't hear anything from Tally, I couldn't hear anything from Jermaine. It was very loud and I loved it. I'm looking forward to playing in front of those guys the rest of the year. Portland's a little bit more of an open stadium so the sound gets out of there. The way BBVA is, it's very enclosed and very intimate and the crowd's right on top of you which is awesome."
Horst said the win "shows that the hard work that we put in during preseason paid off. We know that if we keep putting in that hard work we'll keep getting results like that. I don't think it'll be 4-0 every time but we'll keep getting results."
The 28-year-old said he struck up a solid rapport with his fellow center back, Jermaine Taylor. "We're both veteran players, he does his job I do mine and we talk to each other a lot, we know where each other is on the field. I think it showed that we understand each other pretty well in that game and if we can keep doing that it's going to be a pretty good partnership," he said.
The formula for another shutout on Saturday? "The same things we did last week—win every 50-50, win all the balls in the air, keep the shots as limited as possible. I'm fine with the forwards getting all the glory, they're expected to. So the defense, we put our heads down and we keep working," he said.
"I know that Will and Giles are great strikers and they got a lot of good chances and put them away. But my mentality can't change if we're up 1-0 or 6-0, we have to lock down their forwards and keep playing hard and keep the ball out of our net."
Montreal are without star striker Marco Di Vaio, who is suspended after receiving a red card in their 3-0 defeat to Houston in last season's playoffs. But they still mustered 15 shots and two goals in a 3-2 loss to FC Dallas last weekend.
"It's just going to be a tough game. Montreal's a very good team, they've got a lot of veteran players who've been around and know what they're doing," said Horst.
The Dynamo will seek to keep the momentum rolling against Montreal before an enforced early break. After Saturday Houston have a bye week, then travel to B.C. Place for a game against the Vancouver Whitecaps on March 29. The next home game is not until April 5, when Dallas are the visitors for the Texas Derby.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.