Time and space are the two most valuable commodities on a soccer field and finding them in dangerous areas while denying them to opponents is often the key to success.
For most of last week’s performance against the Los Angeles Galaxy the Dynamo delivered a textbook display of how to close down and frustrate talented players, and the result was a valuable 1-1 draw against the reigning MLS Cup champions. Now Owen Coyle’s side heads into Saturday night’s clash with the Colorado Rapids at BBVA Compass Stadium (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS) aiming to deliver the same level of intensity and earn their second win of the young season.
Asked if the energy level at the StubHub Center was a template for how Houston should play this weekend and beyond, defender Kofi Sarkodie was emphatic. “A hundred percent, I think when we do that, when we are high momentum, I think as a team we play better, I think there’s more energy, I think it makes the other team have more to deal with, basically,” he told reporters this week at Houston Sports Park.
Midfielder Nathan Sturgis was a vital part of that effort. He made his first start of the season and was influential after the early setback of being beaten by Robbie Keane’s trickery for the opening goal. The 27-year-old equalized in the eleventh minute, connecting with David Horst’s header for his first MLS strike since 2013, when he was a member of the Rapids.
The night was a solid start to the versatile veteran’s second spell in Houston. He spent a season with the Dynamo in 2012, making four Eastern Conference starts, and has also been on the books of Chivas USA, Toronto FC, Seattle Sounders, Real Salt Lake and the Galaxy, where he made his MLS debut in 2006.
Coyle brought Sturgis into the lineup to improve the team’s distribution of the ball and was delighted with the bite he added in the center of the pitch. “I thought he really controlled the game with his passing, nullifying their threat at the same time,” said the head coach.
“Nate Sturgis is a very good player. The way we’d set up previously with two central midfielders with one in front, I didn’t think we passed the ball well enough against Orlando and I wanted to find a solution to that, and in my eyes a solution going to play against an outstanding team, that the Galaxy are, [was that] Nate Sturgis could then provide a platform to get our passing going from there. And so it proved, we were terrific.
“We shot ourselves in the foot with the soft goal we lost, but the way we bounced back from that, I’ve seen teams go and play champions and folding like a pack of cards. Nothing could be further from the truth, we picked ourselves up.”
Coyle wants more of the same against Colorado. “That’s the standards we’ve got to attain game in, game out, and I’ve said before, the more consistent you are in terms of your performances, then the results come with that. Appetite, application, quality from start to finish was outstanding and Nate Sturgis provided it [with his] passing and movement.”
Coyle has known for days that he will be without four regulars against the Rapids, with Giles Barnes, Jermaine Taylor, Boniek García and Luis Garrido away on international duty. He will have to make late decisions on other important players who are battling injuries.
The official injury report released on Friday morning lists midfielder Ricardo Clark as doubtful with a rib problem while defender DaMarcus Beasley is questionable with a hamstring strain. Sturgis is also questionable with a thigh strain, but Spanish center back Raúl Rodríguez appears fit after missing the past two games with a hamstring injury.
Colorado will also be below full-strength, especially in defense, where Drew Moor is injured and Shane O’Neill is on international duty. Pablo Mastroeni’s team has drawn 0-0 with the Philadelphia Union and New York City FC so far this season. After the Rapids lost twelve and drew two of their final 14 MLS fixtures last year and missed the Western Conference playoffs, Mastroeni overhauled his roster, with former Galaxy midfielder Marcelo Sarvas a notable arrival and Ireland international Kevin Doyle to join as a designated player in July.
With the absences likely compelling Coyle to give some of the younger players a run-out at BBVA Compass Stadium, Sarkodie — who only turned 24 last Sunday but is in his fifth MLS campaign — is ready to use his experience to help them manage the occasion. “It’s just early in the game, letting him know: ‘hey, look, don’t worry about your mistakes if you make any, you have 90 minutes to play, it’s a long game, stay calm,'” the right back said.
“It’s going to happen during the game where sometimes you come in and it’s your first time playing or the energy’s kind of crazy, you kind of want to do too much. Basically you want to make a big play early, it’s like, ‘give me the ball,' you get it and you want to take your touch down, beat the guy and make this miraculous play, and more than not, it’s not going to happen. If it does, great, but it’s kind of learning … understanding it’s not just about ‘can we make this play,' it’s now ‘can we get a rhythm, can we find that nice partnership.'”
Coyle is confident in the caliber of his roster. “The bottom line is we’re trying to build a squad here,” he said. “We have some talented players that will need to step into the fray but we believe in them and trust them.”
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.