Two particular problems usually flummox a strong Dynamo squad: a match away from BBVA Compass Stadium and a meeting with the two-time defending MLS Cup champions.Both of those factors converged in one place this weekend. The combination of the two problems boded poorly for Houston: the perennial contenders failed to produce a result in each of their past six road encounters against the Galaxy, including two MLS Cup defeats (2011 and 2012) and a Western Conference final loss (a blackout-marred 2009 affair).
History only matters so much in the evolving world of MLS, though, and Houston underscored its own progression through that period by dispatching the Galaxy 1-0 on Sunday night.
Perhaps this night would have unfolded differently had Landon Donovan converted from the spot after Tally Hall hauled down Jose Villarreal in the first half, but the underlying principles would have remained the same nonetheless. This Dynamo outfit came to Carson and engaged the holders on level terms even though suspended fulcrum Brad Davis watched the match from a suite.
Davis' absence might have crippled the side a year or two ago, but Dominic Kinnear has done an admirable job of cobbling together the depth required to weather most personnel setbacks. Former Hearts winger Andrew Driver – scorer the match's only goal with a fine, low drive at the near post – filled Davis' place in the side with a more direct approach. Former Derby County starlet Giles Barnes – provider of the goal – submitted an all-around performance to show why his presence masks the continued absence of Calen Carr and Omar Cummings.
The extra quality within the ranks comes to the fore in difficult circumstances. Houston prefers a tighter pitch (cue the howls of derision from around the league), but it can operate deftly enough on wider surfaces with Boniek Garcia and Driver on the flanks. The increased technical quality within the ranks allows for more dexterity without Davis in the lineup and more quality in possession when required (though not necessarily on display on this particular night).
All of those factors receive the backing of a rearguard that offers a firm base for much of the time. Tally Hall highlighted his usual contributions on this evening by saving Donovan's early spot kick effort and thwarting substitute Gyasi Zardes at the near post. Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor (back from a one-match ban) form a resolute duo in the middle. Corey Ashe and Kofi Sarkodie prefer to push forward, but both fullbacks have improved their work at the back.
Most importantly, this group knows how to grind out games and produce results. This performance – a gutsy, scrappy display in a match where one goal proved more than enough – typified the Dynamo's resolve. One neat sequence of play – in similar games, the breakthrough might come from one of those set pieces – provided more than enough to secure the points.
Good teams like the Dynamo squeeze out draws in difficult circumstances (a 1-1 draw with 10 men at Toronto FC last month, for example) and win matches like this one. They also find a way to end difficult runs and start a tricky three-match week (a visit to D.C. United in midweek and a home date with Sporting Kansas City on Sunday) with the proper results.
Five Points – Week 10
1. Robbie Rogers asks out of Chicago...: It took one full week of training for Rogers to express his desire to rule out a potential career with the Fire. The former Columbus and Leeds United winger told ESPN Dallas (103.3 FM) that he thought there was a “really good chance” he would turn out for a MLS team this season. He all but confirmed Chicago isn't it.
Rogers' proclamation invokes his leverage and sets a scene similar to the scenario explored in the Musings in midweek.
2. ...as Kei Kamara returns to Kansas City: Norwich City declined to exercise its right to execute a permanent transfer for the Sierra Leone international on Saturday. Kamara will return to Kansas City on Monday and resume his career with Sporting, according to a release issued by the club on Saturday.
The move bolsters Sporting for two significant reasons: (1) Kamara's return bolsters the team on-the-field in the short-term because he has received regular match practice at a high standard and (2) Norwich's decision opens the door for other suitors to table offers that may or may not exceed the stated value in the loan agreement.
In the second case, Sporting now possesses the luxury of accepting those bids (assuming they meet the established valuation – a figure that can now tick upward after Kamara's relatively successful Premier League bow and the news that Kamara's contract now runs through 2014, per a Kansas City Star report) or eschewing them to strike a lucrative, long-term deal with a player who fits perfectly into Peter Vermes' system. Talk about a win-win scenario for the club.
3. Three versus three equals four for Sporting: It doesn't take a tactical genius to discern that Chivas USA's slow back three would encounter substantial shape issues against Sporting's mobile front three. Sunday's 4-0 thrashing at Sporting Park underscored the problems facing Chivas USA when José Luis Sánchez Solá – likely for a want of better options – persisted with the status quo anyways.
Dan Kennedy's suspect red card didn't help matters, but this game looked out of the Red-and-White's reach even before the goalkeeper departed after 54 minutes. The extra man just widened the already significant gulf between the two sides.
4. John Hackworth is absolutely right about the last-minute controversy at PPL Park: Seattle defender Leo Gonzalez blocked Conor Casey's shot with his hand. It is a penalty. Jorge Gonzalez must award it in that situation or any other scenario. And he abdicated his responsibility to do so.
(As for the other three red cards, the situation is a bit murkier. Lamar Neagle and Sheanon Williams could have escaped with yellows after their inadvisable tiff along the end line, but they allowed Gonzalez to make a decision by exchanging pleasantries with their foreheads locked. DeAndre Yedlin warranted his dismissal from a reckless, two-footed lunge at midfield even though he didn't make contact with Michael Farfan.)
5. If only more MLS defenders possessed the ability to play this sort of ball out of the back: Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando played a 65-yard goal kick directly into Joao Plata's run. His perfectly weighted service prompted Plata's inviting cross and Luis Gil's gutsy header for the first goal in RSL's 2-0 victory over Vancouver.