When the Galaxy comes to town and your team is missing 8 players, there is a certain sense of dread you might feel. But on Saturday night, as the Galaxy usurped the match's possession, those dominant league performances of Robbie Keane, Sebastian Lletget, and Steven Gerrard seemed weeks ago. Ultimately, it was the Houston Dynamo that rolled over the reigning champs to a 3-0 scoreline on the backs of terrific performances throughout the squad.
The anticipated arrival of the Liverpool legend Gerrard brought a sold out crowd to BBVA Compass and it didn't take long for those fans to glimpse the midfielder's greatness. In the second minute, the English midfielder ran the ball down the right sideline before booming a perfectly weighted ball to Robbie Keane who's powerful shot fell wide of the post.
Dynamo fans would be forgiven for thinking they might be in for a long night but a flicker of life came just two minutes later. Brad Davis stood over a free kick near the top left of the box and sent a blistering floater around the wall to the bottom corner of the net. Galaxy keeper Brian Rowe outstretched for the save and the pace never really dropped off after that point.
The frenetic speed of the match came to a head just five minutes later when Raul Rodriguez won an aerial duel over Robbie Keane, playing the ball to Alex Lima who turned through two defenders to feed Brad Davis flying along the left side of the pitch. With one touch, Davis whipped in a ball looking for Will Bruin. Galaxy defender Leonardo slid over to clear but missed the ball and Bruin teed up a shot to wrap around Rowe for the game's first goal.
From there, the Galaxy would control most of the possession while the Dynamo found opportunities to counter attack. For all their time with the ball, LA were unable to find effective ways of moving into the box and could only maintain midfield possession, for the most part.
Then, in the 27th minute, Houston would strike again. Nathan Sturgis, who played a brilliant shift, managed a run through the left side of midfield. Drawing defenders towards him, Sturgis found an unmarked Davis at the top of the box who had time and space to curl a shot into the right corner of the net.
One of the Galaxy's best chances of the night came just before halftime in the 39th minute. Bradford Jamieson snaked his way through Alex and AJ Cochran on the right sideline, cut into the box and fired a shot that was nearly deflected into the net.
But to this point, the match wasn't unusual for Dynamo fans. Several times this season, Houston could be accused of coming out of halftime having lost a step.
"We can't play great and then play awful... that's not gonna get you in the playoffs," said forward Will Bruin, who tallied his 9th of the season, after the match. "We're certainly not where we want to be right now but what we've done up til now is in the past."
Following a brief "water break" delay to start the second half (the sprinkler system malfunctioned), the Galaxy continued to absorb possession, still unable to penetrate the final third.
A sequence in the 52nd minute nearly found a third goal for the Dynamo. Davis, running down the left, swung a ball into the box and found a streaking Leonel Miranda who attempted a volley that deflected wide of the net. The ensuing corner was on target for a Horst header but he was beat by Rowe. As Rowe distributed the ball, it fell to an unmarked Clark who fired low from distance but slid wide of the post.
As the game settled into a second half lull, roars sprang out from the crowd as Erick "Cubo" Torres made his way from the warmup cones to the substitution line. His arrival in the 68th minute for Bruin, who had gone down with a knack seconds prior, brought new energy to the crowd.
The waning moments of the match served as a quick highlight reel for the brief time Cubo spent on the pitch. In the 79th minute, he combined on a give-and-go with Brad Davis who's shot was touched wide by an outstretched Rowe.
Three minutes later, Davis would play into Cubo again, finding instead a deflection to Sturgis who sent the ball to Cubo for another chance. With the crowd's roar building, Cubo took a touch to settle the ball but couldn't get the shot around a charging Rowe.
Finally, in the 88th minute, the Dynamo found themselves one last goal. Rasheed Olabiyi, who came on just a minute earlier, used his second touch to run onto a long ball and play across the box to Miranda. The Argentinian tip-toed around defenders and sent a gliding chip over the lot to finish off the defending champs, 3-0.
In the end, the superstars on the tips of everyone's tongues went invisible. Gerrard's quiet subsitution in the 85th was evidence (or lack thereof) that he produced much of anything on the night. Owen Coyle, faced with a short list of a roster, expertly played to the Galaxy's matchups and came out ahead to the surprise of many.
"If we play like [we did tonight]," said Bruin, "I think we're gonna be looking to make a run in the playoffs come October."
The Dynamo now travel to face Sporting Kansas City (yes, again) on August 1st.
9' - Will Bruin (Brad Davis)
27' - Brad Davis (Nathan Sturgis)
88' - Leonel Miranda (Rasheed Olabiyi)
16' Bradford Jamieson (Yellow - Foul)
Deric; Williams, Horst, Cochran, Rodriguez; Sturgis, Clark (91'), Miranda, Davis, Alex (87'); Bruin (68')
BENCH: Willis, Hoffman, Manotas, Torres (68'), Steinberger (91'), Olabiyi (87'), Lopez
Rowe; DeLaGarza, Romney, Leonardo, Gargan; Juninho, Gerrard (85'), Walker (71'), Jamieson (45'); Keane, Lletget
BENCH: Vayrynen, Maganto (85'), Buddle (45'), Meyer, Garcia, Wolverton, Lassiter (71')
Silviu Petrescu, (AR) Anthony Vasoli, (AR) Kevin Klinger, (4th) Nima Saghafi