Set pieces are something the Houston Dynamo have prided themselves on throughout their franchise history. Whether it is scoring goals or stopping them, they have traditionally been strong in that area of the game.
As the team heads into their fifth game of the year against the New England Revolution on Saturday (4 p.m. CT, CSN Houston), half of that equation has held up. Houston have scored their last two goals via dead balls, both by Ricardo Clark. However, they have conceded three off set pieces, one on a set piece that was redirected into the box, the past two games and have given up a few other chances.
With the likes of Lee Nguyen and ball hunters Teal Bunbury and José Gonçalves waiting for them in Foxborough, Mass., shoring up their reputation of being tough to score on is something Houston are looking to do.
“We’ve just got to be more gritty in the box and just make sure we’re staying with our markers and being fierce in there,” said right back Kofi Sarkodie. “It’s a battle, especially inside the 18, on free kicks. We’ve just got to be monsters in the box and battle and be big.”
Houston have the tools to be formidable defending set pieces. They have height in the box and have defenders who have shown in the past that they can be physical and win their share of battles.
With those tools, it comes down to execution.
Against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Dynamo were caught out on a redirected set piece. Against FC Dallas after going a man down, Giles Barnes – who scored an own-goal off a set piece in the same game – said that the team was caught in mid-conversation and fell prey to a quick opportunity.
“We’re trying to fix it and we know what the problem is, guys have to maybe be a little more responsible in the box in terms of picking up their marks,” said center back Jermaine Taylor. “We know what the problem is, it’s just a matter of coming to practice and working on it.”
That work ethic will come in handy against New England. While the Revs have scored just twice this season, Houston are not sleeping on their abilities. And that could include set-piece prowess, something the Dynamo are eager to put to bed early in 2014.
“Especially when you look at the area of dead ball situations, a lot of teams are very similar in this league,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear. “They have a couple of guys who can deliver some good balls in and they have a handful of guys who can attack the ball well. It’s just different matchups.
"It’s important for us to remain strong and tuned in. We’ve addressed it and the guys all know how important set pieces are.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.