After more than an hour of being run ragged at Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday night, the dazed Houston Dynamo looked up at the clock and realized they were in a very strange place.
Watch: FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
Real Salt Lake struck early in this one, putting Houston down a goal after three minutes, then kept their foot on the gas and dictated the entire pace of the match. With brilliant combination play from Javier Morales, Robbie Findley and Alvaro Saborio—who nearly had a hat trick—the defending champs had struck three times by the 61st-minute mark.
And Houston couldn’t cope, couldn’t muster much rhythm and looked out and out sloppy. In fact, they looked a lot like a team that played four games in 13 games, and even more like a team that was headed for its most lopsided loss in regular-season play since March of 2008.
“It was a strange feeling I hadn’t felt in awhile,” midfielder Richard Mulrooney told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “I didn’t really know we were three down. But we were.”
A team this exhausted and this taxed by heaps and heaps of injuries could be forgiven if it had dropped back and maybe just looked for a concession goal to save some face. But that’s not how Dominic Kinnear coaches.
Despite the 3-0 deficit, Kinnear replaced defender Craig Waibel with Brian Ching—who made his first appearance since injuring his hamstring on April 1—and went to a very un-Kinnear-like 3-5-2 formation to apply some pressure. And it worked.
Houston created their best sequence of the game in the 72nd minute, showing that even though they were the latest road team to fall victim to the Rio Tinto hex, they weren’t about to hang their heads. With numbers on their side, Brad Davis danced across the top of the box and slotted the ball through the Brian Mullan on the left, who cut back to his right and fired it to the far post past Nick Rimando.
There was little celebrating and, in the end, not enough to prevent the loss. But it made the result look a lot less lopsided.
“They’ve been through [big deficits] before,” coach Dominic Kinnear said of his players. “It happened down in Pachuca [in the 2007 CONCACAF Champions’ Cup], and we came back and tied it up there. These guys—I know they won’t quit.”
Houston have yet to win two games in a row this season and, with their litany of injury problems, Thursday night was only the second time this season Kinnear was able to field the same lineup in two consecutive games.
But the Dynamo are a deep team with experience and, this season especially, have proven their versatility. Now they’ve got to prove they can put all those things together at once. And that starts with finding a way to prevent letdowns after victories, no matter the opponent.
“We’re 4-4-1 and that’s pretty much as dead even as you can get,” said Mulrooney. “It’s always good to get on a streak, whether it’s two wins in a row, two wins and a tie, whatever. We haven’t had chance to do that yet. I wouldn’t say we were at our best tonight. We need to be more focused.”