It was not only the three points collected against the San Jose Earthquakes last week that delighted Owen Coyle ahead of a three-game road swing, but the manner of the victory.
The Dynamo head coach saw style amid the substance and he wants the 2-1 win to be a template for the coming matches, starting with Saturday’s game against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium (6:30 p.m. CT, ROOT SPORTS).
There was the calm and focused way the players responded to giving up a second-half equalizer to ten men in a match they were bossing at BBVA Compass Stadium. It was only the second time this season that the Dynamo have conceded an equalizer then recovered to win the match (the other occasion being the 3-1 victory over the Portland Timbers in May).
In a league where most matches are highly competitive, the ability to respond positively to setbacks is vital for any team with playoff ambitions—and the win moved the Dynamo within a point of the Western Conference’s postseason places with a game in hand over the two teams immediately above them.
Coyle also talked after the match about how the victory gives Houston momentum heading into a testing trio of trips. “It’s not how you start the season, it’s how you finish,” he said.
“We have three games on the road now at New England, at Portland, at Colorado, huge games every one of them and we’re more than capable of picking up positive results. And when we come back from that we then have four of [the next] five at home and we’ve shown the form we’re in at home. So that’s why this is an exciting time to be part of the Houston Dynamo.”
The Earthquakes were the last side to beat Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium, back on May 5. Since, the Dynamo have won six and drawn once at home, including the U.S. Open Cup. And Coyle’s side have won three, drawn two and lost one of their past six MLS matches. Only four teams have picked up more points in that time-frame.
Saturday’s opponents, though, are enjoying a mini-renaissance after a midsummer slump. Jay Heaps’ men, beaten by the Los Angeles Galaxy in MLS Cup 2014, lost five straight games in June and July but are unbeaten in their past three, with two wins, including an eye-catching 3-1 victory over high-flying Toronto FC last Saturday.
So a testing evening is in prospect but the evidence of last Saturday’s win suggests that the players are implementing the attacking philosophy Coyle pledged to deliver when he took over as head coach last winter. “We’re committing players forward, we’re looking to win games in a manner I think befitting the Houston Dynamo,” he told reporters. “It’s really pleasing on the eye, it gets the fans out of their seats. We want to win games; we want to try and be entertaining while we’re doing that.”
Set pieces have been a vital component of Houston’s attack this year—as you’d expect from a team that can call upon the laser-precise delivery of captain Brad Davis. But against San Jose, both goals came from open play: a flamboyant run and shot from left back DaMarcus Beasley and a surging move down the right culminating in a pinpoint low cross from right back Sheanon Williams that was converted from close range by Alex.
It was Beasley’s first goal for Houston in his 31st MLS start and came after he had gone frustratingly close on several occasions this season. “I certainly believe that DaMarcus should be sitting with three or four goals just now,” said Coyle.
The 33-year-old former U.S. national team winger was pleased to get on the scoresheet. “You see my game, I get chances every game. I’m finally happy. Everybody’s been getting on me because I hadn’t scored yet but finally I got one,” he said after the match.
Goals from Dynamo fullbacks have been very rare down the years, but the attacking contributions from two defenders represented Coyle’s pass-and-move philosophy in action: going forward as a team with everyone ready to contribute and strikes potentially arriving from anyone and anywhere.
It was a midfielder, Alex, who found himself deep in the San Jose penalty box to seal the win: an example of how players not reputed as goalscorers can ghost into dangerous positions almost unseen while defenses focus on marking more obvious targets.
“That’s what it’s about, that’s what he brings. Really good movement, energy, obviously his technical ability. He gets up, he gets back, he defends,” Beasley said.
There have been eleven different goalscorers for the Dynamo in MLS play so far this year and 14 players with at least one assist to their name. Only Toronto have as many different players with an MLS assist in 2015. In contrast, last season only eight players scored and 11 contributed assists for the Dynamo in the league.
While much of the discussion about the Dynamo’s attack has focused on the strikers—naturally enough given the arrival of Erick Torres and the form of Giles Barnes and Will Bruin—an increase in offensive production from wide defenders would add an extra layer of diversity and threat to Coyle’s side down the stretch.
“We need goals from everybody,” Beasley said. “If we go and have a good run and do our job we’ll be in the playoffs. We don’t worry about different results—obviously we’ll look at them, but we worry about what’s in this locker room and make our own destiny.”
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.