After last season's disappointment, the Houston Dynamo wanted nothing more than to erase the bad taste in their mouths and get 2011 off to a strong start. Instead, an anemic offense and a defensive mistake on an early set piece set the tone for what was a wholly frustrating night in Houston.
The game couldn't have started any worse for the Dynamo. The Union earned a corner in the 4th minute and after the initial shot ricocheted off the woodwork, defender Danny Califf was in the right spot at the right time to score the game's opening goal.
Houston immediately settled after the goal and took control of possession for basically the entire first half. Despite the advantage however, they were unable to generate many good scoring chances. Their best opportunity came near halftime when the Union failed to clear a loose ball but Jason Garey was unable to connect and get off a shot.
The story of the first half was physical play and referee Abby Okulaja's inability to deal with it...which shouldn't surprise anyone who pays even the smallest amount of attention to MLS. Okulaja and the rest of the USSF officials assigned to MLS matches continue to embarrass the league as US Soccer continues to ignore the problem and provide second rate referees to their top division of club soccer.
Early in the 2nd minute, Will Bruin was sent crashing head first in to the board by Union defender Carlos Valdes. Jason Garey immediately came to his teammate's defense but the incident was ignored by the incompetent whistle blower.
In the 21st minute, Okulaja failed to send off Union forward Carlos Ruiz for a viscous elbow to Andrew Hainault's head. Ruiz was yellow carded and Brad Davis picked up a yellow just two minutes later for a retaliatory tackle.
Valdes was in the middle of things again late in the half and received a yellow card, what should have been his second of the night.
The second half started with more end to end play with the best chance early coming for the Union. In the 60th minute, Danny Mwanga got on the end of a pass in from the right wing and sent the ball in to the side netting. It was a dangerous chance for the young striker just over a minute after entering the match.
The Dynamo had two fantastic chances just minutes apart midway through the half. Brad Davis found Geoff Cameron on a long free kick, who headed the ball just wide of the goal, but the best chance of the came would come two minutes later. Brad Davis broke free down the left and sent a perfect cross to the feet of Dominic Oduro who predictably skied the ball over the net. It's the same horrific finishing we've come to expect from the forward and the key reason many fans lamented his re-signing by the team right before the start of the season.
Honestly, there just aren't enough clean words available in the English language to describe the frustration caused by the Oduro miss. He shouldn't see the field again all season but there's little chance of that happening.
When it comes down to it, the Dynamo's failures tonight were the result of poor passing and an inability to generate meaningful possession in the final third. Holding up the ball in the midfield all night means nothing when you are giving it away in the final third.
It's a dissapointing start for Houston who with the exception of the early goal, looked more organized defensively but were unable to break through against a Union team that was content to absorb pressure and occasionaly probe the Houston defense on the counter.
Not good enough at all and a major let down after a promising pre-season.
The Dynamo will hit the road for the first of two away games, beginning with a trip to Seattle to face the 0-2 Sounders who will also be looking to get their season on track with a victory.