Two games, two shutouts: That phrase is music to any defender's ears.
For the Houston Dynamo’s current pair of center backs, David Horst and Jermaine Taylor, it is a confidence booster and although there is work to be done, it is a sign of a strong pairing coming together.
In shutout wins over the New England Revolution (4-0) and Montreal Impact (1-0) the pair has shown the ability to bottle up attacks and cover more ground than most would expect. As a result, they've become the backbone for a defense that is unscathed even as the pair’s familiarity grows.
“We’re both professionals and we both know what we need to do,” Horst said. “If I keep doing my end of the business and he keeps doing his, I think it’ll be a great partnership going forward.”
That understanding is a good sign, considering the pair logged just 72 preseason minutes together, all against D.C. United, in preseason as Taylor recovered from foot surgery. Despite the short prep time, Taylor and Horst have formed a well-balanced duo.
At 6-foot-4, Horst knows he is there to win tackles and every header sent their way, leaving Taylor to be the ball-player and runner of the pair. That ability to cover for each other has made the pairing work.
Taylor, in his third year as a starter in Houston, knows the way the Dynamo play and still has the physicality and know-how to win those same battles Horst does. Conversely, Horst, who carries the nickname Wreck-it Ralph, has shown more mobility that many would expect from a man his size.
“Since I came out of college my speed was a little underrated because of my size,” Horst said. “I’m not saying I’m Omar Cummings, but with the bigger legs I can cover a little bit of distance.
“Jermaine’s more of a soccer player than I am. I’ll let Jermaine be the one that plays out of the back and I’m fine with that.”
Added Taylor, “I don’t have to do much covering where David’s concerned. It’s pretty good. He’s a good overall defender and pretty big and strong. I’m looking forward to working with him for the rest of the season.”
Opposing teams have found their fair share of chances, however, with communication still a work in progress. Also, counterattacks have caught Houston off guard as they learn when and how to pass runners off.
While they won 1-0 on Saturday, third-year Impact forward Andrew Wenger put those issues on display as the visitors created, but could not finish, several clear looks at goal.
“I think Andrew Wenger exposed us a little bit with his movement and getting between us,” Horst said. “I think Jermaine and I can work on our communication a little bit the next few weeks and make sure we don’t give up the same mistakes.”
With a bye week ahead and a scrimmage against NASL club San Antonio Scorpions Thursday, the center backs have time to continue developing their chemistry.
“It’s a work in progress. They’ll have a great game in the middle of the season then they may not have a great game,” head coach Dominic Kinnear said after Saturday’s win. “They never gave up on plays and that was the most important thing. Sometimes when you have that second effort, it definitely makes up for what happened before.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.