It was just like old times for the Houston Dynamo at PPL Park on Saturday: Brad Davis whipping in a dangerous ball, hard runs in the box and, in the end, a header that would account for the game winner.
All those things are familiar for the Dynamo, except they haven’t been very frequent. In fact, Ricardo Clark’s 53rd-minute header was their first goal from a set piece since May 8. That was once Houston's bread and butter. This season, however, that particular weapon had been dormant until Saturday's winner.
“We always try and take advantage of them,” assistant coach Wade Barrett told MLSsoccer.com. “We have guys who have really good service and have some good guys attacking the ball. For whatever reason, we haven’t gotten too many of those recently, but it was nice that we did tonight.”
Clark’s strike was just Houston’s seventh set-piece goal this season, good for seventh in MLS. The Dynamo finished second in the league in that category in 2012.
Davis has spent a considerable amount of time out of the lineup – he’s only started 19 of 28 games – due to international duty and injuries, which may result directly in the Dynamo's inefficiency on set pieces. Many of the absences have come during Houston’s set piece dry spell.
On top of Davis' absences, Houston have lost some big bodies, namely Geoff Cameron and Andre Hainault, who were prolific at finding the ball on free kicks and corners. Without their supplier, who notched his 99th career assist, and the loss of ball-hunters on the other end, Houston’s drop in production is understandable.
Still, as Barrett points out, it’s a play in the game the Dynamo always look to take advantage of. Clark’s goal was a good example of how, as the play was a result of Davis putting the ball in a dangerous spot, giving his teammates a something to run onto.
“Those are things we work on,” Davis told reporters. “I try to put the ball in good spots, right between the six and the penalty spot and I know those guys are going to make good hard runs and, fortunately, it worked out.”
With bodies colliding, Clark, who was making his first start since August 17, won out. Fighting his way to the ball first and getting a good shot on goal.
“I happened to be in the right spot, I tried to hit it near post, get as much power on it and thankfully I did and it went in,” Clark said. “The smallest chance was going to count ... we still had to grind it out, defensively be on point and we pulled it out.”
One goal doesn’t mean Houston’s set-piece game is back. But if it is, that could be a dangerous weapon for the Dynamo heading down the stretch.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.