With his devious movement and slender 5-foot-8 frame, Robert Earnshaw can be hard to spot – until he performs his customary somersault, one of the most flamboyant goal celebrations in MLS. And so far in 2013, one of the most frequent.
The Toronto FC striker is likely to prove the biggest threat to the Houston Dynamo as they visit BMO Field on Saturday seeking their first away win of the season. Six games into his MLS career, the 31-year-old former Cardiff City player could hardly have been more clinical. He is tied for league top scorer with Mike Magee of the LA Galaxy with five goals, two from the penalty spot. And Earnshaw has only had seven shots on target.
Bobby Boswell’s aim: keep him quiet, don’t let him out of sight.
“I’ve been watching him,” said the Dynamo center back. “The goal this week is no front flips, we don’t want him to celebrate any goals. Obviously you’ve got to take into consideration how he’s been playing.”
The Welsh striker was on loan at Maccabi Tel Aviv from Cardiff before signing for Toronto shortly before the start of the season.
“This will be the first time seeing him. You can watch everything on video but it’s not until you play against someone that you really get to see what they’re capable of,” Boswell told HoustonDynamo.com. “We’ve got to make sure we’re ready. He’s very opportunistic, it seems like he creates stuff but he also feeds off mistakes and we’ve got to make sure we just don’t make any of those.”
WATCH: Dynamo discuss TFC
Not unlike MLS’ most-feared predator, Chris Wondolowski, who was kept off the scoresheet by the Dynamo defense during a 2-0 win for Dominic Kinnear’s club at BBVA Compass Stadium last month. Boswell said that strikers such as Earnshaw, who appear from nowhere to capitalize on errors, are the toughest of opponents.
“That’s the worst kind. He kind of lulls you to sleep,” he said. “But it doesn’t get any different for us, same with Wondo, same with any forward, you can shut them down and if you don’t pay attention on one play it changes the game. One goal is a failed night for us so we’ve got to make sure that we’re successful that night.
“There’s going to be moments in every game where teams are going to have their chances. It’s a good league and every team has good players that create things. The key is to make sure that you limit those and you know where guys are at all times and you put yourself in predictable situations, you make the game predictable.”
The outcome of Saturday’s match might be easy to guess if the Dynamo were at home, where they are riding the longest unbeaten run across all competitions in MLS history. But Houston has yet to produce an away performance this season that has convinced from start to finish. With forwards Will Bruin and Giles Barnes in form and winger Boniek Garcia back at training this week, the visitors will be confident in Ontario.
Despite finishing 2012 at the bottom of the table, Toronto has drawn their past three matches and have six points from six games, which represents a promising start for rookie head coach Ryan Nelsen.
But there’s no doubting the Dynamo’s desire. As captain Brad Davis said this week, every missed opportunity to pick up points from away games will rankle with the players. They remember all too well that the Dynamo finished in the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference last year.
A higher seeding would ultimately have seen MLS Cup take place at BBVA Compass Stadium rather than The Home Depot Center, where the LA Galaxy beat Houston for the second year in a row. After a pair of away defeats to start this MLS campaign, a win on Saturday would be the a positive step down a long path as the Dynamo bid to avoid a repeat scenario.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian and SI.com.