Finally, after 8 games, the Houston Dynamo have recorded a clean sheet. The defense put on a fine display by blanking the San Jose Earthquakes offense in a 2 – 0 victory at BBVA Compass Stadium, Saturday afternoon.
As is their want, the offense got off to a quick start and put pressure on the ‘Quakes defense. A through ball from Juan Cabezas was disrupted when Alex was tripped inside the box only 9 minutes into the game. Erick “Cubo” Torres stepped up and put away the penalty cleanly to increase his league leading goal total (as of this writing) to 7.
From their the offense did a good job to keep the ‘Quakes defense honest but only found a few moments to really test their goalkeeper, David Bingham. As one would expect in a Dominic Kinnear team, the defense was sturdy and did everything they could to prevent shots from going on frame, including tossing their own bodies in front of the ball.
On the flipside, the visitors found it hard to break down the defense, only getting one shot on frame in each half. The first came from Marco Urena late in the first half that was simple for Joe Willis to handle while the second came mid-way in the second half, forcing a much higher quality save off a shot from Danny Hoesen.
The defensive effort from the Dynamo, not only with the clean sheet but also in limiting their opponent to two shots on target (9 overall), is especially impressive in that the Earthquakes are one of the top teams in shots and shots on target (though they’ve only managed to score 8 goals, which is middling). Though Chris Wondolowski is a year older, he is still one of the best poachers in the league. A master at finding gaps between defenders and slipping through when they aren’t looking, he had a very hard time finding those spaces and even receiving the ball. Leonardo and Adolfo Machado had a constant eye on him, forcing him to dig deep into midfield to find the ball and preventing him from getting a single shot off.
Speaking of defensive effort, when was the last time the defense wasn’t whistled for a single foul in a game? In this one they went perfect with their marking and tackling (though Willis was given a yellow card for time wasting. In the 32’. Yeah…).
The half finished rather uneventfully, and the beginning of the second wasn’t much better. Both teams seemed to let the heat drag them down. Houston was content to manage the clock while the ‘Quakes were incapable of getting past the midfield and threatening the defense. A big reason for this was the formation change that Wilmer Cabrera sprung upon everyone. Instead of his typical 4-3-3, he used a narrow 4-4-2 diamond formation. Between Juan Cabezas and Eric Alexander, the midfield had the physicality needed to win the ball back and a crisp passer to get the offense started instantly. Oscar Garcia was the link-man, while Alex played higher up the pitch. An added benefit of the formation was that with the personnel on hand, they could easily morph into their usual formation to stretch the defense, with Garcia pushing into the right forward slot and Elis sliding out left (or vice versa as needed).
While the performance was impressive, the true value of the switch can’t be truly judged until put up against a higher quality midfield. They’ll get just such a test next week when the team travels to Ontario for a match against MLS Cup runner-up Toronto FC.
Elis put the icing on the game in the 72′ by chesting in a corner kick. Alexander stood over the ball and sent his corner towards the far post. Bingham came off his line and missed his attempt to punch the ball away. Elis made a run from the top of the box and was unmarked at the post to chest the ball down to double the lead. The young Honduran is now second in the team in scoring with 3 goals so far this season.
After the second goal, the visitors were overrun and were lucky to only give up the pair of goals. Heavy touches and passes lead to wasted opportunities for the offense. Missed passes to wide open players failed to punish an Earthquakes defense that ran out of energy late in the match. Mauro Manotas, Romell Quioto, Andrew Wenger and Garcia all had fantastic chances that should have at least put Bingham to the test. The best chance came from Cabezas who blasted a shot off the crossbar late in the game.
Not to bury the lede, but Kevin Garcia was given the start at right back. After proving himself last year with Rio Grande Valley Toros, Garcia earned a full time contract with the Dynamo late last season and is a versatile back-up, capable of playing anywhere. With AJ Delegarza still out injured and Boniek better suited elsewhere, Garcia filled in nicely. He was good defensively, making the right decision to clear the ball or pass it out. Going forward he provided an outlet to keep the ball moving, but wasn’t as successful in providing the killer pass to one of the strikers.
With the win, Houston now has 13 points which puts them in second place in the Western Conference (as of this writing). Meanwhile the Earthquakes are in 5th place with 9 points. They travel north to square off against Minnesota United before returning home for a tough game against the Portland Timbers. A quick hop to Denver preludes a home game against Orlando City. The Dynamo, meanwhile, travel to Toronto before a pair of home games against Orlando City and Vancouver Whitecaps. After that it’s a long road trip, with 5 out of 6 games on the road (including their first game against FC Dallas).
What did you guys think of the game? Who was your Man of the Match? How long will Torres stay on top of MLS’ Golden Boot standings? Think Elis, Quioto and/or Manotas can put pressure on him? Who is your bet to win the league Golden Boot after nearly two months of play? Whatever your thoughts, drop them in the comments below or hit us up on Twitter and Facebook @KeeperNotes.