The Dynamo knew their clash with the Los Angeles Galaxy would be Boniek García’s final appearance in orange for a while. What no one could have foreseen is that it would last only 23 minutes.
The World Cup-bound Honduran winger was substituted early last Saturday with what he later said was a minor injury. He was replaced by Omar Cummings—a player more used to operating in attack. That meant Houston handling Robbie Keane and his teammates with an attack-minded midfield of Andrew Driver, Warren Creavalle, Giles Barnes and Cummings—none of whom started in that area of the field on opening day.
Not only were LA shut out, the Dynamo grabbed all three points courtesy of a precise second-half finish from Barnes, putting the team in a positive frame of mind ahead of Wednesday night’s trip to the nation’s capital to face D.C. United (6 p.m. CT, CSN).
It was Cummings’ eighth appearance this season. All have come via the bench, but the 31-year-old did well enough against the Galaxy to show that he is a valid option in García’s absence.
“He did some good things. His effort created a little bit of panic for them late in the second half, he got off a couple of shots as soon as he came on the field; he’s obviously a forward by position and by our thoughts but when he stepped on the field it was a good attacking option for us,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear, who could also turn to Brian Ownby or Alexander López against United, among other choices.
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The Jamaican said that playing in midfield rather than up front is nothing new. “It’s a position I’m accustomed too, I’ve played it many times for the national team and for [former club] Colorado, so it’s a position I like but I haven’t played in a while. I just tried to get that role in mind, what you have to do, and condition myself,” he said.
“I think the defensive responsibility is the difference so you have to be keyed in whenever you have to do that…. You have times in games when you have that momentum and you have times in games when you don’t. You have to recognize those times and know: is this time for us to go [forward]? Or you know what, just hold back, the team’s not ready, be patient.”
As well as Garcia and captain Brad Davis, who is with the U.S. national team, the Dynamo will be without the injured Eric Brunner, Ricardo Clark and Tony Cascio against United, though Servando Carrasco is back from suspension. For Kinnear, whoever takes the field has to show their commitment to working hard when the other side has possession, regardless of their position.
“You really have to play both sides of the ball, everybody does. Just because you’re a forward, it doesn’t mean you get a free pass when the ball turns over and the other team has it. That’s always pushed on these guys wherever they’re playing,” he said.
D.C. marks the first match of a three-game road trip for the Dynamo, who then travel to meet the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday, and the Colorado Rapids on June 1.
Houston’s most recent trip to RFK Stadium, last October 27, was a memorable one as the visitors scrapped their way to a vital 2-1 win, securing a playoff place on the concluding day of the 2013 regular season.
The mood in the D.C. camp will be very different now—and so is Ben Olsen’s line-up. After finishing with the lowest points total in MLS last year, the roster was given a major overhaul. So far, the surgery is working: United are fourth in the Eastern Conference, one place and two points behind the Dynamo having played two fewer matches.
Among the high-profile arrivals are former New York Red Bulls striker Fabian Espindola, veteran midfielder Davy Arnaud, and of course, longtime Dynamo stalwart Bobby Boswell, who returned to his former club in December. Ex-Seattle Sounders striker Eddie Johnson, who scored his first goal for the club last Saturday, was suspended for Wednesday's match by the MLS Disciplinary Committee.
“They’ve made a lot of additions to the team, good experienced additions—you’ve got Boswell, Espindola, Eddie Johnson, Chris Rolfe as well. So when you look at their squad it’s a good team,” Kinnear said.
“They knock the ball around pretty well, they can attack you in different areas, I thought the game against Montreal was a back and forth game that could possibly have gone either way so I think the draw looked pretty fair. Bill Hamid when called upon made some real good saves,” Kinnear added.
“When you look at what Ben has done and what they’ve done in the offseason, they’ve definitely improved their team.”
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.