In the season opener for Houston Dynamo FC, the club faced off against the traveling Real Salt Lake at PNC Stadium on early Sunday evening. The atmosphere was electric with many fans having regained confidence in the club’s direction with a new majority owner in Ted Segal, new General Manager Pat Onstad, and new Head Coach Paulo Nagamura along with several key additions to the roster. The direction is certainly oriented correctly, but there’s still progress to be made evidenced by the 0-0 draw. Here are a few of my brief observations from the match:
Houston have a great record for home openers coming into the 2022 campaign with a 7-2-7 record. While they added a draw to that tally, they showed one reason why they’re so formidable within the opening minutes of the game. The Dynamo were electric and pounced towards goal producing three quality opportunities on goal in just six minutes. As I pointed out in the recap first Griffin Dorsey floated a dangerous cross that nearly met Fafa Picault. Not long after Adam Lundkvist played a long ball to Corey Baird who tried to chest the ball to put him on goal, but it wasn’t controlled properly. Lastly Matias Vera opted for a long shot following a poorly cleared corner, but it ended up with Sebastian Ferreira who wasn’t expecting the ball and it went out for another corner after a deflection.
Overall, this is the kind of energy and shot creation you want see from a club’s home opener. It shows the team has the quality to create for themselves but, they just need a little more to get the ball into the net. That being said, the hot start didn’t last long….
The Offense Goes Cold
Following a promising and aggressive start to the match, as the game wore on and teams became more settled in, the Houston offense practically disappeared. Nagamura’s decision to start two central defensive midfielders in Darwin Ceren and Matias Vera along with Memo Rodriguez as the number 10, not his favored position, hamstrung the team’s ability to create. The personnel simply wasn’t right for the task, but additionally it created a huge gap between the forwards which essentially stranded them and made them easier to defend. Glenn Davis and Eddie Robinson noted during the broadcast that center forward Sebastian Ferreira often had to retreat towards the midfield and defenders to get touches as he was on an island where he was supposed to be playing.
The Dynamo were most effective similar to their 2021 offense, which isn’t exactly a great comparison considering the last placed Western Conference finish. They pushed the ball out wide well and sent it in and they also found space in transition on the counter attack. However, when Adam Lundkvist, the left back, has the only two shots on target, the offense definitely could use some tweaking.
The Defense Held Up
Despite a relatively toothless offense after the first few minutes or so, the real star in Sunday’s draw was how well the defense worked. Being totally honest, Real Salt Lake’s offense wasn’t completely up to the task, but it’s still promising to see the defense function to get a clean sheet after allowing in so many goals last season. The full backs were all effective at getting up the field and providing support from the wings. Zarek Valentin, who came on for the injured Dorsey at the half, even threaded a beautiful pass to Darwin Quintero who struck the crossbar. Parker and Steres largely looked locked in with Matias Vera supporting the two as the deepest midfielder. Perhaps most importantly, goalkeeper Steve Clark showed up. While Clark didn’t have much to do for the majority of the game as the game was mostly played in the midfield, he did manage a pair of top notch saves to keep the visitors off the score sheet. Houston has to clean up some of its play out of the back when pressed and they fouled too often around the 18 yard box, but after only 5 clean sheets in 2021, starting the year off with one is sign of good things to come.
Although the game was a somewhat dull 0-0 draw, there’s plenty to learn from it as the club continues to progress. The offense must have support and add more dimensions to its attack other than how it counterattacks and plays from the wing. It needs to be creative through the center of the field. Not all of the time, but more of the time. Part of how this helps is in the spacing and choice in the starting XI so there are not so many gaps between the midfield and forwards. To me this was the most glaring issue that needs to be addressed along with more creativity from the wings. The defense has looked good, but again quicker and more accurate passing when pressed needs to improve along with better decision making in tackling to prevent set pieces. Overall, we’re seeing a solid foundation that just needs a few more pieces or development for it to all come together.