The pre-match focus was on the Dynamo’s two new individuals, but after the win over D.C. United talk centered on what was one of the most complete team performances of the season.
The challenge now for Houston is to replicate last Sunday’s cohesion and solidity when they make the long journey northwest to meet the Western Conference-leading Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field (Sunday, 9:30 p.m. CT; ESPN2).
The 1-0 win over D.C. was DaMarcus Beasley’s first MLS match for a decade, and Luis Garrido’s first, period—but a casual onlooker would have guessed the new signings had been with the team all season.
After the hype and hope surrounding Beasley’s arrival, the U.S. veteran produced a composed performance, striking up a quick understanding down the left with his fellow national team player, Brad Davis. By his own admission not yet fully fit, Beasley’s mind was sharp: he knew when to charge forward and support the attackers and when to hang back and help protect Tally Hall’s goal.
“We defended as a team, not just the four guys at the back, but the midfield, and Giles [Barnes] and Will [Bruin] they did their job pressing up top,” the 32-year-old told reporters after the match at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Earlier this season it felt like the Dynamo’s injury problems were a black cloud that would never clear, but last Sunday head coach Dominic Kinnear was able to deploy a midfield comprised of four players with World Cup experience. Garrido, the youngster in the quartet, patrolled central areas and brought defensive bite.
The 23-year-old signed from C.D. Olimpia felt happy with his debut but said he has plenty more to offer. “I felt really good, I think the guys supported me very well. It was obviously a good result, a good game, but the important thing is to start slow. That’s the key for me—start slow and try to build from there,” he told HoustonDynamo.com through a translator.
“I know that with a lot of work I can certainly improve and give a lot more. This was just the first showing of what I can do and hopefully I can build on that.” Some players are daunted by MLS’s reputation as a physical league—not Garrido.
“It’s very competitive, that was no secret coming in, I knew what I was getting into. It was very physical, very competitive. Definitely that’s what I like,” he said. Just as you’d expect from a player nicknamed La Fiera—The Beast. “I love it. I don’t know why people call me it, but I don’t mind it at all. It’s all good,” he said.
Hall was impressed by how quickly the newcomers integrated. “To come in and just jump in, it’s so difficult to do that … new players come in and you see it happen with the best players in the world on the best teams and it takes them a while to get accustomed to it. That’s not uncommon,” the goalkeeper told reporters at Houston Sports Park.
“It’s actually more rare to get two guys jump in the starting eleven and look like they’ve been on the team all season. I thought it said a tremendous amount to the level of skill and soccer knowhow for the new players and the way we play I think lends itself to teammates helping other teammates look good.”
The statistics tell a tale of Dynamo dominance: 20 shots to D.C.’s seven, 57% possession, 82% passing accuracy versus 77%. But on several occasions this year Houston have led in some notable categories only to fall behind in the only one that ultimately matters: the final score. This time, the Dynamo were given a late gift by a United defensive error and Bruin had the alertness and composure to take advantage.
And the sole goal was decisive because a defense that had conceded on average two goals per game produced an error-free night and was well protected by a midfield that controlled the flow of the game. That meant Houston’s defense was only sporadically under pressure and when D.C.’s attackers did get the ball, they were usually far from Hall’s net.
“It’s not just the back line, I think we just positioned well and mentally it was good to get on the same page. I felt like we’ve put performances like that in bits and pieces through a game and to be able to have that for a full 90 minutes is something to copy,” said Hall.
“Giles and Will when they’re on and working together they’re a very dangerous tandem and they’re going to create a lot of chances and they’re going to put those chances away. For us to have that and at the same time defensively shut them down for a full 90 minutes, they didn’t have a lot [of chances].
For Kinnear, a more urgent, determined approach was key. “I think the guys understand where we’re at in the season, it’s time to start winning games, and I think by winning games you have to make sure you’re not giving up a lot of goals. I think our defensive record this year is not good and so the guys took it upon themselves to make that better. I said this after the game too, sometimes it’s personnel but most of the time it’s attitude. I think our attitude was different and that’s the reason why we were better,” he said.
The Dynamo know there is still a long and difficult road ahead if they are to reach the playoffs. Currently the team is eighth in the Eastern Conference, five points off the top five but with a game in hand. Still, after Sunday, the team has renewed belief that it is capable of making the journey.
“D.C. is one of the top teams in the league and we felt like we were all over them the entire game besides a couple of moments,” said Davis. “So there’s no reason not to continue and progress from here on out throughout the rest of the year and really try and do something special.”
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.