Bad luck and poor form continue to haunt the Houston Dynamo, resulting in a 2-2 draw against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night. An Eddie Robinson gaffe and an own goal were enough for Colorado to spoil Houston's first game since the World Cup break.
After having a few weeks off for the World Cup, both the Dynamo and the Rapids came out of the tunnel rusty. The game was, as expected, very physical early on, and Brian Ching was lucky to not be sent off after a two-footed challenge on Pablo Mastroeni. Colorado's lumbering forward was also lucky to not see red on two occasions after using his elbows against defenders throughout the game.
Both teams started the game fairly offensively, but Houston was able to open up the scoring after a Danny Cruz goal that is worth a Goal of the Week nomination. After controlling the ball about 35 yards from goal and bring the ball into the middle of the field from the wing, Cruz struck a low hard ball across the face of goal that found its way into the back of the net. Cruz celebrated again with his teammates and coaches and was sure to thank coach Dominic Kinnear for his faith in the young midfielder.
Houston looked poised to go into halftime with a 1-0 lead until Conor Casey embarrassed the Dynamo defense with a goal following an Eddie Robinson turnover. Robinson collected a pass and appeared to be caught between two minds on whether to pass back to goalkeeper Pat Onstad or across the back line to either Bobby Boswell or Andrew Hainault. The lack of decisiveness from Robinson gave Casey just enough time to challenge the defender and win the ball. Casey then weaved through a scrambling Houston defense and scored after a diving Onstad (who was off his line, again) took out Robinson who was trying to recover from his mistake. Boswell was on the goal line but was unable to clear the ball.
Casey's goal marks another embarrassing collapse for a Houston defense that has struggled throughout the season. After allowing late goals to the Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls, and getting demolished by an in-form L.A. Galaxy, Houston has only managed to keep four clean sheets in league play all season. While injuries have hurt the back line, communication and poor positioning seem to be the primary issues for a once formidable defense. For Houston, the defense must tighten up if the team has any hopes of making the playoffs.
Early in the second half, forward Joseph Ngwenya, who was on his first start of the season, almost gave Houston the lead after going one-on-one with Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens. Ngwenya hit a decent shot, but Pickens was able to palm the shot away for a save.
Colorado was then gifted a second easy goal after a Rapids corner kick struck Dynamo midfielder Lovel Palmer's thigh before bouncing into the back of the net.
Houston immediately looked for a response and Kinnear made the aggressive move to bring defender Mike Chabala off the pitch in order to put forward Dominic Oduro in attack. The switch from a 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2/3-4-3 was a bit uncharacteristic for Kinnear but demonstrated how important getting something out of the game was to the veteran coach.
The move almost immediately paid off when Danny Cruz fired another shot across the goal with his left foot, hitting the far post, bouncing along the goal line, and ricocheting back into the field off play off of the near post. Houston continued to press, though, and earned an equalizer after a great pass from substitute Brian Mullan traveled across the box to Ngwenya who coolly slotted it home. This was Ngwenya's first goal with the Dynamo since he returned after brief stints with various clubs in Europe.
Neither side was able to find a winning goal and ended up sharing the points. For Houston, this marks the first points since May 22 when Houston beat DC United; prior to this game, Houston had lost three games in a row. The club now sits in fifth place in the Western Conference with a record of 5-7-2.
The Dynamo have a quick turnaround as they meet Miami FC in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. at Robertson Stadium.
Team Fought Back
After going down a goal in the second half, Kinnear made some aggressive adjustments and pushed his team to quickly erase Colorado's lead. The veteran coach's moves were successful and Houston equalized eight minutes after Colorado gained the lead. For the first time in a number of games, we saw a Houston squad that was willing to fight hard to get back into a game and attack to get some share of the points. This is a positive point for Dynamo fans, especially after the team has shown a collective lack of mental toughness. If the Dynamo can figure out a way to attack teams early and gain leads quickly, then they should be good enough to stay in games, even when the other team scores.
Danny Cruz Continues To Impress
Midfielder Danny Cruz started just his fifth game of the 2010 season but rewarded his coach's faith with a fantastic goal early in the game. Cruz nearly doubled his tally in the second half when a shot from distance struck the post, rolled along the goal line, and struck the opposite post before returning to the field of play. The young midfielder has been hit or miss thus far, but his display against Colorado showed some maturity that his earlier appearances lacked. If he can stay mentally strong and continue to make good decisions, then Cruz should continue to get starts on the wing and will see more goals come his way.
Defensive Mistakes Continue
Yet again defensive mistakes cost the Dynamo another game. Eddie Robinson's howler of a play led to Colorado's first goal and killed Houston's momentum going into halftime. Up until that point, Houston looked the better side and was controlling the game. Robinson's mistake came after Conor Casey's elbow struck him in the throat, resulting in him barely being able to breathe and speak. The defender was quick to say that the injury had no influence on his mistake, but Robinson clearly looked flustered and could not decide where to place the ball.
On top of that, Casey's run pulled goalkeeper Pat Onstad off of his line, forcing him to dive at the feet of the attacker. Onstad's moves resulted in him missing the ball and taking out Robinson's legs, pulling both of them out of the play. For Casey, it was a cool finish and solid display of skill for such a large forward. Casey made the Dynamo defense look like an amateur squad and reminded everyone that the team still has much to work on.
Unfortunately for the Dynamo, defensive mistakes are becoming a reoccurring theme. The coaching staff hoped that the World Cup break would give the team the time to fix these mistakes, but the back line clearly has more work to do. Practice can eliminate the positioning mistakes, but only an unwavering focus and communication can eliminate the mental mistakes this defense continues to make.
Midfielder Danny Cruz: "[There were] some positives and negatives. We broke the losing streak, so that's important; that being said, we wanted to come out with three points at home. But we take a point and look forward to Thursday against Toronto."
Defender Eddie Robinson: "No excuses, I let the team down tonight. The effort that [my teammates] have put in these last two weeks to try to turn things around, and for me to make a mistake like that, it's like me punching them. It's disappointing, and mentally it's tough."
Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear: "We were doing fine until the huge mistake right before halftime. We were well in control of the game and not giving up chances and keeping possession of the ball. It really turned the game around, and it took us a while to recover. ... I'll give the guys credit, some great last-ditch defending as we were pushing forward for the goal and a great finish by Joe. At the end, we could have snuck a win, and they could have, too. It kind of fell right in the middle."
Midfielder Corey Ashe: "The way things are going, it's good that we showed some fight and walked away with a point. It's a good point, and we battled back."
Midfielder Brad Davis: "We still fought to the end, got a good goal, and got a point when we could have put our heads down. If we can just eliminate the mistakes and make other teams beat us, we will turn things around."
HOU -- Danny Cruz (Corey Ashe 2) 17
COL -- Conor Casey (Mehdi Ballouchy 3) 45
COL -- own goal (Lovel Palmer) 71
HOU -- Joseph Ngwenya (Brian Mullan 2, Brian Ching 1) 79
Colorado Rapids -- Matt Pickens, Marvell Wynne, Drew Moor, Scott Palguta, Danny Earls, Omar Cummings (Ross LaBauex 89), Mehdi Ballouchy, Jeff Larentowicz (Wells Thompson 83), Pablo Mastroeni, Jamie Smith (Colin Clark 76), Conor Casey.
Substitutes Not Used: Claudio Lopez, Quincy Amarikwa, Michael Holody, Ian Joyce.
Houston Dynamo -- Pat Onstad, Andrew Hainault, Bobby Boswell, Eddie Robinson (Ryan Cochrane 46), Mike Chabala (Dominic Oduro 74), Danny Cruz, Brad Davis, Lovel Palmer, Corey Ashe (Brian Mullan 62), Joseph Ngwenya, Brian Ching.
Substitutes Not Used: Luis Landin, Richard Mulrooney, Cam Weaver, Tally Hall.
Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (Round 3)
Tuesday, June 29, 7:30 p.m., Dynamo vs. Miami FC, Robertson Stadium
Action from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup returns to Houston for the first time in three years. With a short turnaround time between this game and Saturday's game against Colorado, the Dynamo will be expected to field a mix of veteran players and young talent. Against Aguila we saw the young players' skills and their desire to prove they belong on this team, and they will have to carry that desire into the U.S. Open Cup tournament. This is always a fun competition for the players and the Dynamo have fared well in the Cup the last few seasons. They should do well in the tournament, but I imagine Kinnear would rather the team be consistent in league play. Maybe these games can help tighten up the back line and create some positive consistency for the team.