Correct the mistakes, continue working hard and keep faith in the team's talent. That's the three-point program for the Houston Dynamo as they bid to rebound from Wednesday night's setback and end their winless streak on Sunday against the Portland Timbers at BBVA Compass Stadium (2 p.m. CT, TICKETS).
The Dynamo return home this weekend after a three-match road trip that concluded with a 4-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls. Defender Corey Ashe pledged that Houston will battle fiercely on Sunday and stick together as they aim to secure their first victory since March 15.
"We're a resilient team, it's still kind of early. We're going to continue to work hard, that's all you can do in situations like this, you can't feel sorry for yourselves, you can't pout and turn on your teammates. You've got to come together and find a way out of it. If that means scraping and clawing on Sunday, it may be an ugly game but right now we just need a result. Once we get that result I think we'll be fine," Ashe told HoustonDynamo.com.
"Right now we're our own worst enemy. Nothing's really falling for us, we're in a little bit of a funk, trying to find the answers. We knew this was going to be a big game. Give credit to New York, they're a solid team, Supporters' Shield champs last year, they have quality players. But we made them look a lot better than they actually were."
With Thierry Henry in the sort of imperious form that underlines why he is a two-time FIFA World Player of the Year runner-up, the Red Bulls were fluent and feisty in attack. But a Dynamo defense missing the suspended Kofi Sarkodie had an off night, apart from some excellent saves by goalkeeper Tally Hall. And though New York allowed Houston plenty of looks at goal, the visitors were unable to convert their opportunities and lost key midfielder Ricardo Clark to injury in the second half. The midfield was already below strength since captain Brad Davis did not play because of injury.
As in the 4-1 defeat to FC Dallas on April 5, the scoreline was a harsh reflection of what can happen when a team plays promisingly against dangerous opponents for long periods but is not clinical enough at either end of the field. The Dynamo out-shot the Red Bulls, 20 attempts to 14, and also forced more corners.
"From the defense to the offense we weren't our best and they capitalized. When you play a team of that caliber, for starters you've got to put chances away. When you're in front of goal you've got to find the back of the net. That said, from the defensive standpoint we've got to defend a lot better than that. The first two goals were really soft," said Ashe.
"Second half we came out of the gate flying, had a couple of chances, I really thought we were going to get one, but when they get three it kind of takes the wind out of your sails."
The left back said the team needs to be better at tracking opponents' runs and it must increase communication around the field. And, of course, goals need to flow at the right end. "We need the first goal. Once we get one I think we'll be fine, right now it's just searching for it," he added.
On the plus side, it's still April and only one-fifth of the regular season is in the books. And Houston is known as a team that comes good late in the year. The Dynamo lost three times to New York in the 2013 regular season but ousted Mike Petke's team in the playoffs and went on to reach the Eastern Conference Champsionship.
Still, as Ashe noted, points in the bank now help to reduce stress later. "We're really hard on ourselves but at the same time we know it's early. We want to help ourselves out by getting early points, that way later on in the season we're not putting ourselves in must-win situations," he said.
Overall, for Ashe, Wednesday was a bad night that is not characteristic of the team's ability, personality or expectations. "This is a competitive team that wants to win. We have high demands, high expectations of each other. We don't think we're a team that should be giving up four goals, not only this game but against Dallas as well. I think we have a lot of quality around the locker room," he said.
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.