One of the worst moments of David Horst's career came against Houston. Now a member of the Dynamo, the defender is looking forward to creating some happy memories wearing orange.
The Dynamo traded with the Portland Timbers last December for the rights to the tall and strong center back, filling a vacancy opened by Bobby Boswell 's departure for D.C. United.
The 28-year-old is still adjusting to life in a far bigger and more sprawling city than Portland, but he immediately felt comfortable at Houston Sports Park as preseason training got underway on Monday.
"It's a great set-up, they've got the strength facility right here, the physical therapy, great locker rooms and the field's great right now. It's a nice set-up. It's a top-notch facility," he said.
"It's a very successful operation and [head coach Dominic Kinnear has] been at the center of that for years now, so he knows how to win games. I'm very excited to be a part of that. And the guys have all been great so far, they've all welcomed me into the team and are showing me the ropes round here, so I couldn't ask for anything better right now."
A Pennsylvania native, Horst spent four years at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. He was selected in the first round (14th pick overall) of the 2008 MLS SuperDraft by Real Salt Lake but found it hard to break into the lineup, though he did make his debut that August in a 4-3 road loss to the Dynamo.
He knows how it feels to train and play in the energy-sapping heat of a Texas summer after a loan spell in 2009 with the Austin Aztex. "Once you're in it for a few weeks you kind of get used to it and it's good for the home team and bad for the away team, so you get used to it. I had the same thing in Puerto Rico, it was extremely hot there, and you do get used to your surroundings," he said.
That loan spell with the second-tier Puerto Rico Islanders in 2010 was especially valuable for Horst's development. He saw plenty of minutes as the Islanders finished third in their CONCACAF Champions League group after a 5-3 aggregate win over the Los Angeles Galaxy in the preliminary round that featured a stunning 4-1 victory at the Home Depot Center.
"It was a great experience, Puerto Rico's an awesome place in the summer, playing day in day out taught me how to be a good professional, how to take care of my body, of myself, what to eat, what not to eat. We played in the Champions League so I got some great competition. Just an overall great experience on and off the field for me," said Horst.
He moved northwest at the end of 2010 after the Timbers selected him as the ninth overall pick in the MLS Expansion Draft. Portland had also grabbed current Dynamo center back Eric Brunner and former Houston midfielder Adam Moffat in the draft. All three featured in Portland's inaugural MLS match, a 3-1 defeat to the Colorado Rapids in March, 2011.
Horst went on to make 16 MLS appearances that season, eleven of them starts, but hip and ankle injuries limited his availability. He had offseason hip surgery which saw him miss the start of the 2012 season, but it proved his best year to date.
Horst logged 21 MLS games (20 starts), was named to MLS' team of the week four times and his first career league goal was extra-special: the game-winner in a 2-1 victory over Portland's great rival, the Seattle Sounders. Underlining that he likes to get forward, he had 17 attempts at goal that season.
He looked set to be a regular again in 2013, but misfortune struck in the 15th minute of Portland's 2-0 win over the Dynamo last April at JELD-WEN Field. Battling with Giles Barnes for a loose ball, Horst fell awkwardly and broke a bone in his right leg. He required surgery which ruled him out for the rest of the season.
"Kind of a freak injury on the turf, I stepped wrong and instead of my leg bending forward it bent straight backwards and kind of just fractured the top of my tibia in a couple of places, basically put me out for the rest of the year. There's a great therapy unit up in Portland and they did a good job getting me back on the field and getting me ready for this year, even though it's not with Portland they still got me ready to play," he said.
"It was very frustrating but the good thing about going through that before was that I knew what it took to come back from serious injury. I applied the same principles and did a lot of the same things that I did before and hopefully it pays off for this season."
After returning strongly from surgery two years ago and working his way into the first team, Horst is aiming to follow the same blueprint.
"I've just got to prove first and foremost that I can stay healthy for an extended period of time. I've struggled with that in the past three years but the guys here, they have their spots and the only thing I can do is put my head down and work hard and get myself ready and be ready when I'm called upon," he said.
It helps to have a former team-mate in Brunner who made the same journey from Oregon to Texas twelve months prior. "It's been great having somebody here. Before I even came here I talked to him quite a bit, I was asking where should I live, where should I stay away from, the good parts and bad parts of Houston, overall what to expect from Dom, the coaching staff and preseason.
"It was good to have that, it kind of relaxed me a little bit. You're always anxious when you're going into a new situation and Eric helped me a lot."
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.