It was better from the Houston Dynamo.
It wasn't three points—or even one point—but it was a somewhat solid performance on the road against one of the league's best teams. Without some late-game offensive magic, Real Salt Lake would not have gotten a victory.
I know a lot of you are probably down on the Dynamo right now. You're adding to the rapidly-expanding Fire Coyle bandwagon. But I encourage you to keep hope. There were positive signs.
That and some observations from Houston's 2-1 loss at Rio Tinto Stadium:
1. A new no. 6
The Dynamo's formation was listed as a 4-2-3-1, with Leonel Miranda going out on the wing and Boniek Garcia in central midfield as a replacement for the suspended Alex Lima. They kept Ricardo Clark and Collen Warner in the lineup as the two holding midfielders, while essentially everything else was the same from their previous games with this formation, aside from the fact that Giles Barnes stayed in the striker role.
As the game went on, the formation involved into more of the 4-1-4-1 they played last week, with Clark pressing higher up the field and Warner staying in the lone no. 6 role. For the most part, it was successful, especially in defensive midfield.
But there were times when Warner failed to stay in front of the defense, evoking memories of games earlier in the season when the backline would be stranded without help. He mostly stayed in position, but there were instances where he would go chasing the ball or half-heartedly joined an attack then didn't run back.
It wasn't a big issue, but what makes the best defensive midfielders is discipline, and he didn't always have it. Take a look at RSL's first goal:
You can see the backline, then you see a gap directly in front of it. That's there because Warner lightly pressured Kyle Beckerman at the beginning of this clip, then decided that with other midfielders back, he didn't have to play defense. The result was frenetic and disorganized marking and overall bad defending, and Yura Movsisyan found a hole in the six-yard box to give RSL the equalizer.
This is something Warner has to work on, and I'm sure Owen Coyle will mention it to him in the next training session.
The former Toronto FC man proved his worth in the position, however. He's not a midfield destroyer—like LA's Nigel De Jong—or a physical ball-winner (there's a difference)—like Portland's Diego Chara or Vancouver's Matias Laba. He's a more tactically-oriented player with the ability to position himself in the correct places to discourage attacks before they even start, rather than purely knocking guys off the ball.
Warner isn't as good as Chara or Laba, but he has his merits, and he brings a level of organization to a Dynamo team that needs it desperately. Although he may stray out of position at times, and isn't a hugely effective passer, he appears to have solved a number of problems in this area. Coyle should keep him in the starting lineup and let him protect the defense against Sporting Kansas City next week.
The Dynamo didn't have a bad attacking game by any means. The lineup didn't call for a ton of offense—Boniek and Clark obviously don't do a lot in the chance creation department—but they did press RSL at times and found themselves with opportunities, especially in the second half.
They could have done more in the first half—Barnes had the only shot on target in that half—but overall, it really wasn't bad. And Houston easily could have won if RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando hadn't evolved into a superhuman Scott Sterling.
I didn't give Rimando a lot of love in my article previewing who could make the USMNT's Copa America roster, but after this, I think he should be given a little more consideration. He made the saves of the century on Leonel Miranda and Andrew Wenger in the 80th-minute. Take a look at this:
Then watch the Scott Sterling video, if you haven't seen it. Actually, watch it no matter what. It's great:
Nick Rimando singlehandedly won that game.
Even Owen Coyle had to admit, it was one of the best saves ever.
Houston coach Owen Coyle: "Nick Rimando's probably already had the save of season." #RSL— Chris Kamrani (@chriskamrani) May 1, 2016
Don't feel too bad, Dynamo fans. Facing any other goalie in the world, Houston would have grabbed a point from RSL.
3. Sense of urgency
Last week, with the Dynamo down a goal, Coyle didn't make much of an effort to get back in the game. This week, with a 2-1 deficit, he didn't just throw the kitchen sink at the goal; he threw the entire kitchen.
Coyle used all three of his attackers available on the bench—Will Bruin, Erick Torres and Cristian Maidana—and piled players up front. It didn't result in anything other than skillful RSL counter-attacks, but it was a sign that the Dynamo are desperate for points.
They need them, because more dropped points and they could be realistically out of the playoff race. I have trouble saying that in May, especially in this league, but it's a real concern. They need some urgency, and it was promising to see that they know that.
Right now, that doesn't change anything. In the future, it could.