Back at home, back playing a team that only deals with BC Place’s turf once every 24 months, Vancouver again looked like the team that dominated New York on opening day, a performance that delivered the Whitecaps’ second win of the season. In the process of posting their 2-1 result, however, we may have learned more about visiting Houston than the team that ended up on top. After going toe-to-toe with the swift Vancouver attack, the Dynamo proved the quality it showed the season’s first two games was more than the function of an easy schedule.
Before Saturday, we just didn’t know how good Houston was. The Dynamo’s 4-0 win over New England on opening night was impressive, but the Revolution proceeded to be shut out in its next two games. And while Houston beat Montréal 1-0 two weeks ago, only a huge deflection on Will Bruin’s goal separated them from a team that’s now 0-3-1. Particularly after that Impact game, there were reasons to doubt.
Those reasons appeared to come out early in Vancouver. After an initial feeling out period, the Dynamo were having the predictable problems with the speed in the Whitecaps’ attack. In the 13th minute, that quickness led to a corner kick, with a Pedro Morales cross after an initial clearance producing the opener for Jordan Harvey. After Andy O’Brien knocked down Morales’s ball at the far post, Harvey got to a bouncing ball before Tally Hall, poking the home side in front.
Near the 30 minute mark, though, Houston adjusted. Instead of the Vancouver attack continuously hitting their block with speed, the game started to slow down. The midfield of Brad Davis, Ricardo Clark, and Boniek Garcia began getting a better hold on the game. David Horst’s shoulder blocks started cleaning people out. Over the last hour, the game looked less like a BC Place track meet than a typical Dynamo affair. Dom Kinnear’s team had solved the puzzle.
Unfortunately, one final hint of BC Place’s influence doomed Houston. In the 57th minute, right back Kofi Sarkodie slipped as former Akron teammate Darren Mattocks cut behind him into the left side of the Houston penalty area. Once down, the defender’s left arm, extended above his head, blocked the ball, making Kevin Stott’s call almost obligatory. Kenny Miller’s second conversation of the season made it 2-0.
Houston would come back with a goal in the 75th minute after Clark headed home a perfect restart from Brad Davis, but the consolidation only served as a wakeup call. David Ousted was never truly tested with a potential winner as an awoken Vancouver played out the clock, sending Houston to its first loss of the season.
But consider what Houston was up against. I mentioned it a lot on the blog, but it’s difficult to overstate the effect of the Whitecaps’ turf. It is the strangest surface in the league — the only one of its kind (LigaTurf) — and plays like the top of a pool table. For Western Conference teams that play there every year, coaches and players learn to adjust. For Eastern Conference teams that only visit British Columbia once ever two seasons, the experience has to be surreal. The typical training session a team has before a road game isn’t enough to adjust.
Houston also has one of the slowest central defense pairings in the league: David Horst and Jermaine Taylor. Horst’s familiarity with BC Place from his time in Portland seemed to help him adjust to Vancouver’s runs, but the lack of speed was still a disadvantage, especially since Houston’s formation also left the team outnumbered in midfield.
I can’t wait to watch this one later this week. I want to know how Houston overcame all these obstacles. I suspect it’s the same formula as ever — quality players, willing to work hard, executing the basics — but that doesn’t make the performance any less impressive. Even if is just just Rico Clark adjusting, working harder, and outplaying his opponents, I want to be able to focus on it.
Against some other teams, particularly Eastern Conference teams, Vancouver would have ran away with today’s game. But after they adjusted, Houston were their equals at BC Place. Despite the loss, it was a very impressive performance.