We can exhale now, at least a bit. If you were holding your breath waiting for the Houston Dynamo to get a point on the road, you can take a few deep breaths and tell us all how you didn't die from not breathing for seven weeks. If you're holding your breath waiting for the Dynamo to pick up a win on the road, don't worry, I've already called the coroner, because it'll be a few weeks before the Dynamo play another road match - and fair warning: if you're still alive then, you might be treated as a zombie.
But enough with the jokes. Saturday afternoon, the Dynamo accomplished at least one part of the mission - they went into BMO Field and came out with a draw against a Toronto FC side that by all accounts should have been able to preserve the full three points at home.
All the stars seemed to align for yet another disappointing Dynamo loss away from BBVA Compass Stadium. The weather was far from comfortable - hovering close to freezing with light snowfall in the early minutes of play. Swirling, gusting winds played havoc with any long ball or cross played in. Adam Moffat injured his hamstring and had to be subbed off in the 41st minute. Brad Davis injured his groin and was subbed off after the half.
In the 58th minute, Toronto midfielder Jeremy Hall threw off the pursuit of Luiz Camargo and shot into the lower corner of the goal to give Toronto a 1-0 lead. There's really nothing else that can be said - it was a fine strike from distance, through traffic, placed perfectly - realistically, the only chance anyone had to stop it was lost when Camargo was beat.
By this point, things had gotten bad. They had a little more than a half hour to play, and yet the Dynamo had already lost two midfielders to injuries, had to burn to early substitutions, and were once more down on the road. This was about the time people thought it couldn't possibly get any worse, right?
Wrong. Four minutes after the Toronto goal, defender Jermaine Taylor and Toronto striker Robert Earnshaw are racing towards a ball when Earnshaw drops and referee Drew Fischer wastes no time showing Taylor a red card. Replays show clearly that while there is contact between the two - what appears to be a hand to the side of the head - there was nothing that really warranted Earnshaw's drop to the pitch, clutching his face. Watching the match, it's clear that there were several times where Earnshaw goes to ground perhaps too easily, and in this case, he manages to get exactly what he was hoping for.
About this time, most every Dynamo fan watching the match is having violent flashbacks to the Portland match, where a decent first half was wasted by an abysmal second half. And yet somehow, that didn't happen. Did Toronto have chances to put the game out of reach? Most definitely - both before and after their loan goal. But except for Jeremy Hall's shot, they all met their match - usually Tally Hall, but in the case of one memorable chance from Earnshaw, the crossbar got in its fair share of defense.
So what was different, I wonder? Two and a half weeks ago, an injury-deprived Dynamo side fell flat on their face against Portland. They got behind, and never really gave themselves a chance to right the ship. That match finished 2-0 to Portland, but in all honesty, it probably should've been a lot more lopsided. Granted, my opinion on this is based solely on what I was able to catch (just the second half, and only the radio broadcast), but what I did catch was not very pleasant.
Still recovering from the injury that kept him out of the Portland match, Oscar Boniek Garcia didn't see time against Toronto (and would later say that he'd have been surprised had he been able to go more than five minutes or so), though he had improved enough to travel and dress as part of the eighteen. Davis, who missed the Portland match, started in Toronto, but he left after the first half, and didn't seem very effective while he was there - and while his replacement, Camarago, had some good stretches of play, he didn't impress much in his first substantial action of the season. Moffat played the full Portland match, but his injury Saturday afternoon meant that Warren Creavalle would have to come on and play in an unfamiliar position.
Shortly after Taylor saw red, Dominic Kinnear was forced to burn his final substitution in order to restore the backline to four men, with Giles Barnes leaving to make room for Eric Brunner. All in all, by the 65th minute, whatever semblance of formation and gameplan had been thrown out the window in favor of trying to keep the score as close as the possibly could.
And somewhat surprisingly, it worked. Creavalle proved that he can play at least passably well wherever you put him, and though Camargo's defense isn't what it once was, he didn't make any mistakes after Jeremy Hall burned him. Eric Brunner was thrust into a match situation that was pretty much FUBAR, and yet he too rose to the occasion, pairing up very well with Bobby Boswell for the 26 minutes the two were together.
Fast forward almost half an hour. Three minutes and change into four minutes of stoppage time. Though Toronto has had plenty of chances, the score is still only 1-0 to the home side. And what's more, it's the Dynamo who have done much of the pressuring in the last twenty minutes or so. They haven't given up, and they have this one last chance - a corner, not off the foot of the esteemed Davis but off of Andrew Driver. Driver's cross is rerouted by Ricardo Clark and finally nudged in by Creavalle - giving the Dynamo an equalizer when few really expected one to come.
As a fan, I was always hopeful. I knew the possibility was there, even without Davis there to deliver the ball. The Dynamo have always been a side that made a living off of set pieces, and any time they get one, you're conditioned to believe "Maybe. Just maybe, this is the one." And yet when this turned out to be the one we'd all waited for, I was stunned by it.
This was a Dynamo side who had lost two starters to injuries and another to ejection. Down a man and completely shifted around, they nonetheless played some of the best twenty or thirty minutes of road play I've seen this season. Where in previous weeks the Dynamo had shrunk back, they rose to the occasion. Driver - who had originally started on the right side in place of Boniek - shifted to the left side and still performed well. Yet Driver was only part of a makeshift midfield - along with Creavalle, Clark, and Camargo - that while perhaps lacking in individual brilliance, worked together to ensure that the entire match was not spent simply defending against Toronto's attack.
What made the difference? Was it the sight of two of the starters going down to injury? Indignation over what was perceived as a wrongly issued red card? Disgust at the side's road form to that point in the season? We may never know, yet something lit a fire under this Dynamo side and kept them pressing and fighting until the end - ultimately ensuring a much-needed point away from home.
I've seen it expressed in various places that supporters hope that road points don't depend on the Dynamo drawing fuel from ejections and injuries - and I completely agree. I would definitely prefer that they find a way to get points on the road with a full compliment of healthy players. It's better for the health of the squad, it's better for the disciplinary status of the squad, and it's most definitely better for the blood pressures of the supporters.
All of that being said, I'm not going to disdain the result and the point that came with it. We've been waiting for this side to show us how good they are. Yes, we know they can win at home, but can they do it on the road? Can they win when the odds are stacked against them? Can the play through adversity to get results when a result isn't expected? We have our answer, finally. They can. And because of that, you shouldn't panic over how the point was won. Good sides win or get draws where they're not expected to, and that's exactly what the Dynamo did Saturday afternoon. Was it pretty? No. But it's a point, and in the table, it's the points that count - not how you get them.
Put that orange panic button away for now, and let's move on to this weekend's match. The Dynamo got through one hurdle last weekend - let's wait fr them to clear the others when they get there.