David Horst will be back on familiar territory when the Dynamo face the Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Friday night (10 p.m. CT, UniMás). The burly defender spent three seasons at the club before moving to Texas last year.
Horst’s time in Oregon was blighted by injuries but he’s enjoyed better luck in Houston. Following last year’s career-high 31 MLS starts he has again become a fixture in the lineup in 2015 under new head coach Owen Coyle.
The 29-year-old has played 90 minutes in each of the past 14 MLS matches, with his commanding presence at center back especially important since Jermaine Taylor endured a serious injury last month.
Horst is relishing his extended spell in the team. “I think I’ve got a good run of games now between last year and this year and I think I’ve learned a lot from my experiences, I’m getting better as a player,” he told HoustonDynamo.com.
Horst suffered a leg fracture playing for Portland against the Dynamo in 2013, which meant the sixth surgery of his MLS career. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that I missed three years in the middle of my career where I didn’t play much because of injuries. Last year was my first full year really as a starter, to be able to build off that and go forward has been good for me,” he said.
“People always want young players but I think I’m kind of a late bloomer here in my twenties where I finally get to play and do well. I’ve just got to keep working hard and going forward. Some primes are later for some guys than others.”
The Pennsylvania native believes that his long layoffs have even had a couple of beneficial effects. “I don’t have a lot of miles on my legs yet because of those injuries, which is good. I look at some other guys that are my age in this league and they’re really starting to break down and not hold up very well and I’m plugging along pretty well right now since I got over the injury hump,” he said.
“I really learned a lot from those experiences, from sitting there having to watch, hearing what coaches say behind the scenes and having to work even harder to come back has really helped me as a soccer player. Now I’ll never sit out of practice for a little knock, a bruise or anything, because I know that any day could be my last, from those experiences. Every time I go out for a game I always prepare as well as I can because I don’t want that game to be my last one.”
Despite his physical presence—he stands 6 feet 4 inches—Horst is not a prototypical bruising center back. He has received only seven yellow cards and one red in his 95-game MLS career, which started back in 2008 with Real Salt Lake.
As well as operating clean-up in his own penalty box, he likes to head up to the other end of the field and cause havoc in the opposition area. This year he has provided two assists. Last season he contributed a goal and an assist and made 15 attempts on goal. He’s also enjoying the team’s evolving style under Coyle, who wants the Dynamo to build fluent attacks from the back. It’s an approach that requires a certain level of calm and creativity from the defense.
“It’s kind of how we played there at Portland under [former head coaches] John Spencer and Gavin Wilkinson and under [current coach] Caleb Porter. With Owen bringing that style in I felt comfortable with it. I think I’m getting better every game at it,” Horst said.
A strong defensive performance will be important on Friday as the Dynamo look to resume their playoff push after the setback of a 2-0 defeat to the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium last weekend. After the disruption of lengthy delays as lightning raked the area, there were more sparks off the field than on it.
“Despite the delay I thought we had a really good first half, had some scoring opportunities, did well defensively. It was just one of those weird games where the weather threw a challenge at us, we didn’t accept it. Mentally we shut down in the second half a little bit,” Horst said.
“We’ll give New England credit, they came out with a good intensity but we certainly know we could have passed and moved the ball better,” Coyle told HoustonDynamo.com. “We’ve been in a good run of form. The important thing now is to go on and get momentum.”
Given injuries to key performers, suspensions, international absences and a large number of road games in recent weeks—the Timbers clash is the second of a three-game away swing—Coyle believes the players “have done tremendously to keep themselves in this playoff hunt.”
After Friday, the Dynamo visit the Colorado Rapids on August 26 then round off the month by hosting the Vancouver Whitecaps on the 29th. The San Jose Earthquakes’ stunning 5-0 win over Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday means the Dynamo currently sit eighth in the Western Conference, four points off the top six with a game in hand over the sixth-placed Seattle Sounders.
The Timbers have won their past two matches are in fourth, eight points better off than Houston. “We’ve got ten games left now, five at home and five away and we’ll look to take points from every one of those to see where it takes us at the end of the season,” Coyle said.
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.