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Wilf Thorne/Houston Dynamo

Tyler Deric, AJ Cochran grow into starting roles with injured veterans ahead of them

Brad Davis does not spend much time thinking about Tyler Deric — and the Dynamo captain means that as a compliment.

Deric has hardly put a glove wrong since stepping into net as a replacement for Tally Hall, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Sporting Kansas City on August 29. While Hall recuperates from an ACL operation, Deric has impressed.

He made three saves and kept his first MLS shutout of the season in the goalless draw with the Philadelphia Union last Saturday and is set to make his fourth successive start on Sunday in the vital clash with the Chicago Fire at BBVA Compass Stadium (2 p.m. CT; TICKETS).

Picked up by the Dynamo Academy back in 2007, it would be only the eighth MLS start of Deric’s career. But for Davis, having him in the side feels routine. “I honestly don’t think twice that it’s Tyler back there in a game, for the most part he’s made the right decisions, done a good job, it’s no real surprise,” the midfielder told reporters at Houston Sports Park.

Until this month the longtime backup had not made consecutive MLS starts since October 2010, but Davis fully expected the 26-year-old to settle into a solid rhythm once he finally got his chance for an extended run in the lineup.

“He’s been around for so long it’s not a surprise, it really isn’t. There’s nothing I can say that’s really anything new, we knew what we were getting with Tyler. Him and Tally are great goalkeepers, you look at the pedigree that [coach Tim Hanley’s] had with goalies, he’s a great goalkeeper coach; honestly I’m really not surprised that Tyler’s been able to come in and do a good job,” said Davis.

Asked to assess his performances so far, the Spring native told reporters that “things are going all right” but he is working on improving his communication and the consistency of his distribution.

“We’re always trying to tell Tyler to keep the guys in front of him sharp and organized and I think it makes his job easier in the long run and I think he’s really getting hold of that,” said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear.

Deric said that one of the key adjustments as he gets used to playing regular first-team soccer is not technical but mental, as he aims to be decisive and take a leadership role in organizing the defense and staying strong amid the pressure of a playoff chase.

“[It’s about] being there for my teammates and not backing down from situations, trying to step up and be present. Because you can come into situations and just shrivel and go into a little ball but I’m trying to be positive,” he said.

Just in front of Deric at PPL Park last week was another player with limited MLS minutes who has been thrust into the lineup because of injury and made three starts in a row. With veteran center back Jermaine Taylor missing time because of a concussion, rookie AJ Cochran has stepped in to the heart of the defense.

The 21-year-old came up big, blocking four shots to help protect Deric’s goal. Only seven players have made more blocks in a game in MLS this season, according to Opta. “Being a rookie I’m just trying to keep it real simple and just trying to feed off of the other guys, just continue to work on my speed of play and go from there,” Cochran told reporters at Houston Sports Park. The former University of Wisconsin standout was selected as the 16th overall pick by the Dynamo in this year’s MLS SuperDraft.

Cochran has so far made nine MLS starts and five substitute appearances, racking up 955 minutes. Davis has been impressed by his confidence and the willingness of the roster’s youngest player to be a vocal presence.

“It’s always tough for a rookie, this has been a group that hasn’t necessarily seen a lot of rookies step on the field a whole lot. I think it’s especially difficult to step into that center back role, it’s a very important role at this level. You need somebody that can be good on the ball, physical, AJ has those attributes; a guy that is not afraid to bark orders and organize,” Davis said.

“Overall he’s done a very good job coming in and doing his job and now is a time where it’s a great chance for him to develop, we don’t get a lot of rookies that get that opportunity and I think he’s one of the guys who’s stepped in and done a good job and hopefully he continues to grow.”

Cochran said he is learning all the time from the players around him. “Just getting the opportunity to start and play with guys like David [Horst] and having DaMarcus [Beasley] next to me and Kofi [Sarkodie], it’s awesome playing with guys that have been in the league for a while, veterans. It just makes my job much easier,” he said.

“I’m just concentrating on going out there, playing simple and just hoping the team wins games. Obviously, six games left, we’ve got to start making a push. I’m just going to continue to come out here, work hard and if my name’s called next Sunday I’ll be ready to go.”

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.