It wasn't the prettiest of games, but three points add up the same on stat sheets no matter how they're won.
Behind an own goal from defender James Riley and a Ricardo Clark blast, the Houston Dynamo got a 2-0 victory over D.C. United in their MLS season opener.
Houston came into the match rocking a 25 game unbeaten streak in regular season play, and with the win are now just three shy of tying the record set by Real Salt Lake. With Tuesday's CONCACAF Champions League clash against Santos Laguna, the Dynamo will be looking to make it 32 wins in all competitions.
D.C. United came into the match lacking their most creative player, Dwayne De Rosario, due to a two game suspension for headbutting Danny Cruz in the team's final preseason game. It was evident the star was missing because United couldn't get anything going in the midfield and no one was able to step up and fill the void De Rosario's suspension left.
Instead, D.C. seemed to settle in and defend deep, something that nearly let them escape with the point though. The Dynamo were the better team on the night, but the game appeared headed for a draw with goalkeeper Bill Hamid likely to be the man of the match.
Hamid made a couple of incredible saves in the first half to keep the score level. In the 37th minute, referee Baldomero Toledo pointed to the penalty spot as Ricardo Clark was in on goal and the last defender Chris Kolb reached out and grabbed Clark's shoulder and tripped him up. Seconds later, Kolb was given a yellow card. The problem? The foul clearly happened outside the box and it should have been a red card to Kolb.
Brad Davis stepped up to the spot, but sent in a predictable shot to the left side and Hamid read it perfectly, easily blocking the penalty attempt and collecting Ricardo Clark's follow up.
Minutes later, Houston threatened from a corner kick. Davis sent in a perfectly placed ball that found forward Will Bruin, who did well to free himself from all defenders. Bruin headed the ball towards the far post, but Kolb cleared it off the line. Giles Barnes fired in the rebound, but Hamid made a spectacular save to keep the game level.
In the second half, DCU was able to neutralize the Dynamo attack a bit better, but were never able to muster any attack themselves. The ball was being played in the center of the field for long periods of time, without either team being able to create a rhythm.
As the match seemed headed for a scoreless draw, Houston was finally able to get on the scoreboard - thanks to D.C. United. In the 80th minute, Brad Davis sent in another nicely placed ball that found the head of DC defender James Riley. Riley was attempting to clear the ball with Ricardo Clark nearby, but knocked the ball past Hamid for the own goal.
Nine minutes later, the Dynamo added an insurance goal courtesy of Ricardo Clark. Warren Creavalle started the sequence with a throw in, but it was his movement off the ball that set up the blast. Creavalle made a run behind the defenders towards the endline, received a nice pass from Brian Ching, moved past his defender and kept the ball in, then delivered a nice touch pass to Clark. Clark fired it far post and Hamid didn't have a chance.
In the end it was a deserved result. Houston controlled the match overall, evidenced by their 58% possession rate and outshooting United 17-7 (6-0 on target).
As for the performances of the night, Ricardo Clark was certainly the man of the match. He was playing box to box and his energy and workrate was unmatched last night. Giles Barnes got the starting nod up front and definitely was a close second to Clark. DCU shut down Will Bruin last night, but Barnes gave them trouble from the start of the match until he was subbed out late in the second half. According to one report, Cam Weaver may have been slated to start but was a late scratch due to a groin injury. Whether that impacted Barnes' opportunity to start, the English midfielder looks poised for a great year.
Check out the recap at Black and Red United - they think Barnes was the man of the match. (Take a look towards the end of the recap... I think they spell BBVA Compass Stadium incorrectly, or are they just mad at the place?)
Next up for Houston is a Tuesday night showdown with Liga MX club Santos Laguna in the CONCACAF Champions League. Santos played out to a 3-1 win Friday night against Jaguares behind two goals and an assist from Herculez Gomez.
At this point, there is no telling who Dominic Kinnear will put into the starting lineup, but Houston has some options. It appears Cam Weaver picked up a groin injury and didn't make the match day roster against DCU; his status is unknown for Tuesday's game. After the game, Kinnear didn't rule out the possibility we could see Andrew Driver make his Dynamo debut against Santos. We'll just have to wait and see.
I caught up with Herculez Gomez a few days ago and he gave some great insight on a number of topics. Give it a read if you haven't already.
What are your thoughts on the DC match? Concerns? What's your expectations heading into the Santos match?