The words inked in ornate script on Tyler Deric’s left arm read: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
The quotation from the last line of Tennyson’s poem "Ulysses" is a tattoo he got when he was 18 and a mantra he takes to heart, one he sums up as “Don’t be stale, always try and be better. You think you’re good today? Then that’s not good enough, you have to try and be better the next day.”
The goalkeeper has lived up to those lofty words this season and that left arm has been at full stretch as he’s justified his first-choice status with a series of stunning stops that have seen him nominated for the MLS Save of the Week award for all six weeks this year.
The 26-year-old Spring native took the honor three times in a row and will find out on Friday if he’s added to his collection thanks to his close-range denial of Jack McInerney in last Saturday’s 3-0 win over the Montreal Impact.
With the Dynamo on the road to Eastern Conference leaders D.C. United this Saturday (6 p.m. CT, ROOT SPORTS), Deric might be called upon to make yet another outstanding save. He feels ready to handle the pressure that’s been on his shoulders since a serious injury to longtime number one Tally Hall, now with Orlando City SC, gave him an extended run in the first team starting last August. It was a reward for his patience: the homegrown product has been with the club since 2009.
New head coach Owen Coyle was impressed by Deric’s preseason performances and handed him the starting job ahead of Joe Willis. “It wasn’t announced till about the last week of preseason that I was going to get the starting spot. Owen took me into his office and said that I’ll be the goalkeeper and that was a big boost of confidence from a manager like him, a guy who I respect a lot, and for him to have that confidence means a lot to me,” Deric said.
The one blip came against Orlando on March 13 when an own-goal blunder allowed the visitors to leave BBVA Compass Stadium with a 1-0 win. “I try to make it motivate me as best I can. It was a mistake, I knew it was a mistake, my teammates knew it was a mistake, but they had my back after that, they knew that’s not my character and I’ve been on the bench too long and worked too hard to let one mistake ruin my season,” he said.
Deric bounced back strongly the following week during the road 1-1 tie with the reigning MLS Cup holders the Los Angeles Galaxy and has conceded only three times in six appearances this season — at least two of them down to moments he feels the team could have handled better.
“If you get beat on a good play by attacking players then you take your hat off to them and say it’s a good goal, but the goals we gave up, LA and my mistake against Orlando, those things should never happen in the first place and hopefully we all learn from them and put it behind us and move on,” he said. “I think we’ve limited our mistakes and we’re learning really quickly.”
Deric is currently second in MLS with 21 saves, one behind D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who has played a game fewer. Only the Colorado Rapids have conceded fewer goals than the Dynamo so far this season and they have completed five fixtures to Houston’s six. Deric currently leads all MLS goalkeepers this term with a 91% save percentage.
The men in front of him also deserve credit. Center back David Horst believes that a consistent defensive lineup has been one of the keys to the back line’s improved showing so far this year. “Besides Raúl [Rodríguez] and Tyler there hasn’t been much change back there. Last year every other game we were basically throwing out almost a whole new back four. And this year really the only change has been me or Raúl,” he said.
“Having four out of five guys consistently playing together really helps out a lot. It’s steady back there, it’s consistent and it’s showing in results for the defense right now.”
Horst said it also helps to have three capable defensive midfielders in Ricardo Clark, Nathan Sturgis and Luis Garrido. “When you have the three guys in the middle it really takes away passing lanes for their forwards. Whether it’s Nate or Luis constantly sitting there in front of you it helps out a lot because then that forward has to move out of their position if they want to get the ball,” he said.
“As soon as you get them to move out of their spot that helps us out because then they’re out of position. Having Nate and Luis take that passing lane saves a lot of running for us so we’re fresher at the end of games and we’re not giving up goals late in games.” It's a trend the Dynamo will look to continue this Saturday.
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.