CHARLESTON, S.C. — It's not exactly the way you want to close out the preseason just days from the start of an ambitious campaign.
But thanks to a blinder from Charleston Battery goalkeeper Odishel Cooper, the MLS Cup runners-up Houston Dynamo were foiled 2-1 by the USL Pro side in the final match of the Carolina Challenge Cup on Saturday night at Blackbaud Stadium.
And the road only gets tougher for Houston. A challenging start to the competitive season awaits the Dynamo with the MLS season opener on March 2 against D.C. United (7 pm CT, NBC Sports Network) and then a critical home leg in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series against Santos Laguna the following Tuesday (7 pm CT, Fox Soccer).
"We got a busy next 10 days with the home opener and then we get the first game of the CONCACAF," Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear told MLSsoccer.com after the match. "Preseason has gone pretty well. I'm not really thrilled about losing this game here. But you just have to brush it aside and get ready for D.C."
D.C. United staff will have noticed how the Battery frustrated the Dynamo by putting numbers behind the ball on Saturday. Houston scored early through Giles Barnes but they were unable to break through again. In fairness, Houston ran the show and created a handful of good looks at goal, including a penalty kick, but Cooper and the Battery defense held strong.
"The goalie had a great game," Kinnear said. "We created some good chances. In the first half, [Cooper] made four really, really good saves. I thought some of the play we had was good. But it is what it is. A team sits back, sometimes you have to be patient. I was trying to tell the guys push the tempo so you get as much out of the game as possible. … You want to try to probe and poke and I thought we did some good things."
Among the positives for the Dynamo was the reappearance of central midfielder Ricardo Clark, who returned after experiencing swelling in his left knee following a collision in the first game of the tournament. Although it's still "a little bit sore" and "a little bit puffy" due to swelling, Kinnear expects Clark to be available for selection against D.C. and Santos.
Kinnear also got another 45 minutes from his left back Corey Ashe, who was making only his second preseason appearance and came out of the match after the first half with some tired legs. The manager says Ashe will also be ready to start next weekend with the help of another week of training.
"We'll see," the Dynamo manager said. "It really is a game-by-game thing. After D.C., you get with Theron [Enns, head athletic trainer] and see how the guys are feeling and then you take it from there. It's good we have that [league] bye [March 9-10] so we can prepare for the second leg [vs. Santos]. We know the first game is important, but you want to make sure you put a healthy team on the field."