Mathematics suggests the Houston Dynamo still have a chance at the playoffs. Their play on the field Saturday night suggested otherwise.
Coming off a bye week into a game the team needed to win in order to close the gap on the Western Conference's sixth and final playoff spot, the club came out flat defensively and missed important chances going forward. The result was a 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake that cut an already slim margin for error down another size.
“There’s no getting away from it: I thought we looked fragile tonight,” said head coach Owen Coyle. “We let ourselves down, and there’s no getting away from that. I felt offensively we created enough opportunities, but when all is said and done, we cannot defend in the manner we did. And that’s what happened tonight.
“It’s hard to take.”
Added Dynamo striker Will Bruin: “Honestly, I’m kind of just shocked and at a loss for words. We’re not going to get in the playoffs playing like that – plain and simple. I don’t think we played as urgent as we needed too. We can’t put performances like that out there the last six games of the year. That point needs to be across everybody.”
Some words used by Coyle to describe the team’s defensive performance included the terms "fragile," "soft" and "disappointing."
For defenders, those are terms to be avoided.
“That’s his opinion, but when we give up three goals what else can you really say?” said center back David Horst. “When you’re giving up three goals like that – and they were soft goals – we’ve got to be tougher in the back, and be stronger going through these last couple of games.”
Houston struggled to close down the ball and failed to step forward against Salt Lake’s attack. While they went the first 40 minutes unscathed, their fortunes turned on the final kick of the first half and never improved from there.
That strike was delivered by RSL playmaker Javier Morales, and then forward Devon Sandoval scored on the other side of the intermission to put Houston in a two-goal hole.
After a Brad Davis penalty kick cut the deficit in half, the defining moment of the night – and possibly the season – took place as Juan "El Burrito" Martinez scored a gift of a chance to ice a game in which the Dynamo were continually a step behind.
“I don’t know if 'surprised' is the best word. 'Angry,' probably. We were worse than them in every part of the field,” said defender Raúl Rodríguez. “In our box we were probably soft in the most important moments of the game. In the middle we weren’t able to keep the ball or to defend as solid as we used to be. On attack we had three or four chances to score and we missed. We were worse.”
After six unbeaten at home, five of those wins, Saturday night was supposed to be a game to help Houston continue their climb towards the postseason. Capitalizing on home fixtures was supposed to be the club's best path to close that gap in the standings. Instead, the Dynamo failed to answer the bell Saturday.
“For me as a player, it’s disappointing,” Davis said. “This is one of those games that I think could be a turning point for us at home, [because a win] puts us in a playoff spot. It comes down to the mentality and the toughness of the group.
“Tonight I don’t think we were all there. We even had chances to get ourselves back in. We have to be able to win these games.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.