Coming off a 5-0 win over a first team depleted New York Red Bulls, the Houston Dynamo haven’t quite looked all that different than last year which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as last year’s squad reached the Western Conference Finals. In their third match of the Mobile Mini Sun Cup they faced off against a club that Chelsea FC legend Didier Drogba has a stake in, USL side Phoenix Rising.
The Dynamo lineup for the first half looked like:
(GK): Chris Seitz
(DF): George Malki, Alejandro Fuenmayor, Leonardo, Justin Bilyeu (RGVFC product)
(MID): Charlie Ward, Darwin Cerén, Tomás Martínez
(FW): Arturo Álvarez, Mac Steeves, Memo Rodriguez
The opening minutes were fairly slow as the Dynamo controlled possession, but weren’t able to break down Phoenix’s defense as they kept plenty of players behind the ball. Build up play through Memo and Martínez looked promising and RGVFC product Justin Bilyeu had a dangerous run down the left side of the field in the 10th minute, but the Dynamo were unable to come away with an early goal.
Arturo Álvarez would help the Dynamo knock on the door again as he sent a nice through ball to Martínez, but the pass had just a little too much on it and Martínez only had enough room to send the ball into the side of the goal.
George Malki’s day nearly ended prematurely after running into a Phoenix player which resulted in head-to-head contact. After staying down and getting checked on the side line, he would re-enter the game.
Phoenix had a run down the right side of the field which resulted in a dangerous ball across goal, but Leonardo was able to slide into it resulting in a corner kick. Shortly after a foul by Memo at the top of the box, Phoenix would get another chance to take a lead, but Chris Seitz was alert to punch the free kick away from goal.
Charlie Ward’s day would end early after a reckless challenge on a Phoenix player before halftime. After some confusion, the referee utilized VAR to review the play and Ward was sent off with Eric Bird replacing him. Malki would also come off with Todd Wharton filling in at RB.
Quickly after the subs were made, Álvarez would put the Dynamo up 1-0. Wharton made a run down the right side of the field and played a perfect ball across the goal for Álvarez to one touch finish.
Phoenix would nearly equalize just before halftime. After a free kick that was whipped into the Dynamo’s 18 yard box, the referee blew the whistle for a penalty against Houston. I’m not sure exactly what for, but I’m going to speculate that it was for a handled ball (Editor’s note: speculation confirmed by 4th official). Chris Seitz made a solid save on the initial penalty on former Dynamo player Jason Johnson and then Seitz saved the follow-up attempt which ricocheted into the post which he kept from going over the line before Wharton finally cleared the ball completely.
The whistle would blow for halftime with the Dynamo up 1-0. Overall, the Dynamo could not take advantage of their possession advantage and they struggled to breakdown Phoenix’s defense. Phoenix had several quality counters, but those chances were well defended.
The Dynamo would make two changes at halftime with Joe Willis moving into goal for Seitz and Romell Quioto in for Mac Steeves. Quioto is making his preseason debut after missing extended time with an illness.
New RGVFC player Conor Donovan would also make an appearance replacing Leonardo in the 61st minute. 10 minutes later the Dynamo would make their last changes with RGCFC products Pablo Aguilar, Marcelo Palomino, and Wilmer Cabrea Jr. coming on for Tomás Martínez, Memo Rodriguez, and Arturo Álvarez.
Things would get chippy from here on out with several rough tackles between the two sides. The final whistle would blow and the Dynamo would get their 2nd win of the tournament with a 1-0 win over Phoenix Rising as the club remains unbeaten with wins over RBNY and Phoenix and a draw with the Portland Timbers. Phoenix had several opportunities to equalize, but the defense and the goalkeepers were up to the task of keeping the shutout.
The offense struggled at times with Alberth Elis, Mauro Manotas, and Andrew Wenger sitting out which hurt the quick counters that have defined this team. The Martínez and Rodriguez connection is an intriguing one, but one that needs time to build chemistry.
The Dynamo’s next game will be Saturday, February 24th with the opponent and time TBD in Tucson, AZ.