HOU_021815_Lopez
Wilf Thorne / Houston Dynamo

Owen Coyle, Houston Dynamo continue building momentum to March 7 kickoff

Preseason is a learning process and defeats can be at least as instructive as victories. So Owen Coyle was far from downcast after the Dynamo fell to a hard-luck 1-0 defeat by the Austin Aztex at Houston Sports Park on Wednesday.

The next time the Dynamo play a match in Houston it will be the opening day of their 2015 MLS campaign, which kicks off March 7 against the Columbus Crew (TICKETS). With every preseason game a crescendo rising to that big night at BBVA Compass Stadium, the head coach said that the loss was part of the tuning-up process.

The Dynamo dominated the scrimmage but conceded a late own goal to the USL PRO side. “The only thing we were missing today, which is all important, is scoring the goals that your play deserves,” Coyle told reporters after the match.

“We don’t want to lose any games, but today was a very valuable lesson and I’m glad it happened just now as opposed to the season proper, because that can happen in the league—you can go and dominate games and you’re not clinical enough and all of a sudden there’s a sucker punch at the end.”

The Dynamo came close to scoring on several occasions, while goalkeeper Tyler Deric had little to do, but they still lost for the first time in five preseason games. “I played as a striker, was very fortunate to score nearly 300 goals. I never ever worried about making chances. What my concern was, if you weren’t making chances. Truth be told we should probably have scored four or five today, and I’m not talking about shots from outside the box—I mean gilt-edged chances,” said Coyle.

“That’s the lesson to be learnt today—when you’re on top in the game, it was a game we totally controlled, I don’t think Tyler made a save, so we’re totally on top of the game—when all’s said and done you’ve got to put the ball in the back of the net… You’ve got to be clinical, you’ve got to be ruthless.”

Despite the Dynamo’s busy winter of transfer acquisitions, center back Raul Rodríguez was the only player in the starting lineup who was not with the club last season. Honduran playmaker Alex López was used sparingly in 2014 but started against Austin and looked lively and eager to impress, with one through ball in particular drawing his coach’s admiration.

“I’ve been delighted with Alex López. I’ve been delighted with his attitude. He’s got natural ability. What I’m trying to bring to his awareness is what his role is within the team and how hard he’s got to work off the ball as well. I thought he did very well today, I thought he worked very hard, created a number of opportunities, sent a magnificent pass in the first half to Will Bruin when the ‘keeper made a great save from him,” Coyle said.

“So Alex López can play—he’s a talented kid. What he needs is a bit of confidence, he needs somebody to believe in him. Ultimately, as I’ve said before, we will furnish players with opportunities. You’ve seen we’ve made a raft of changes. We’re going to give players an opportunity to say ‘listen, I’m here and I want to get in your team.' And when you get the opportunity it’s up to you to take it.”

Though Rodríguez scored the 86th-minute own-goal, he was otherwise a self-assured and elegant presence at the core of the defense alongside Jermaine Taylor, the veteran embarking on his fifth season in Houston.

The Jamaican said he is developing a solid understanding with Rodríguez, who was formerly with Spanish top-division side Espanyol. “This game is our first 90 minutes together but it’s getting better each game,” he told HoustonDynamo.com. “He’s technically good on the ball, and off the ball he defends properly as well, so overall he’s a good player.”

Taylor found positives despite the result. “It’s all about the learning process right now and build on what [Coyle’s] telling us in time for the season,” he said. “He wants the guys to express themselves and be comfortable on and off the ball, and is trying to show that when you don’t have the ball you have to defend. As a team we need to defend collectively.”

The Aztex are also managed by a Scot: former Dynamo defender and Academy coach Paul Dalglish. He said the match was a good opportunity to test his players against strong opposition and that he expects Coyle to add fresh ideas to the Dynamo line-up while preserving strengths from past years. “He’s well known, he’s managed in the Premier League so it’s great to have him here,” Dalglish told HoustonDynamo.com. “They’ll do well this year, I’ve got no doubt.”

The Dynamo head to Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday for a trio of preseason games in the Carolina Challenge Cup. They face another USL PRO team, Charleston Battery, on Saturday, then MLS expansion sides New York City FC and Orlando City FC next week.

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.