Still, the Houston Dynamo could have believed its lousy fortune had run out. The 2008 season ended with a 3-0 playoff loss to the Red Bulls - aka the Amazing Danny Cepero Show - and during preseason All-Star defender Eddie Robinson suffered a knee injury to further weaken a team that had already lost Dwayne De Rosario and Nate Jaqua.
Instead of getting the breaks, Houston is getting beat. It fell asleep and conceded an equalizer to wind up tied, 1-1, with Columbus in its opener at home, then scored two goals but allowed three in San Jose, and last weekend outshot D.C. United, 13-7, and hit the crossbar while losing, 1-0.
"Sometimes it's a cruel game and tonight there were some cruel bounces," said defender Bobby Boswell after the loss in San Jose. "That's just how it goes. It sounds clichéd and I have to say that, but we'll rebound. If we put in that effort week-in and week-out we're going to come out on the winning side a lot more than we end up on the losing side, but they came out and got three goals."
While the first and third goals scored by San Jose were aided by kindly bounces, the Quakes did open up the Houston defense. Arturo Alvarez scored a stunning goal by cutting inside from the right to drill a low shot past Pat Onstad, and on a few other occasions the big Canadian keeper rescued his team with a dive or outstretched foot.
"On their third goal, a guy [Chris Leitch] tries a 35-yard shot, a squibber, and it hits a player [Darren Huckerby] and just stops perfectly," says Richard Mulrooney of the winning goal scored by Cam Weaver. "But give them credit, they got the bounces and though maybe one of those was offside, they finished them."
In the opener, poor marking allowed Jason Garey to knock down a cross for Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who collected the ball and drove it home in the 84th minute. After conceding three in San Jose, Houston tightened up its play last weekend at RFK, but a terrible error by Boswell - playing against his former team - spoiled an otherwise strong effort. He let a long ball hit by Bryan Namoff bounce over his head near the edge of the penalty area, and Luciano Emilio seized on the chance to score.
Five minutes after the goal, Namoff cleared a Ricardo Clark shot off the goal line. United went down to 10 men when Jaime Moreno fouled Brad Davis in the 71st minute but Houston couldn't capitalize. In the final minutes, keeper Louis Crayton got just enough glove on a booming Davis shot to tip it onto the crossbar, and Clark drilled another shot narrowly wide.
"Every week changes, so you can't say, the defense needs to get shored up, and then the next week it's different," says Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear, who sat out the D.C. game because of a suspension imposed for berating the referee after losing in San Jose. "You have to keep an eye on everything, whether it be your attacking line or your defensive line."
Last year, Houston failed to win any of its first six league games, though it did manage four ties. It lost only one league game after the All-Star break (to New York) before stumbling in the playoffs. In 2007, it started out with a 2-5-1 record, then reeled off a five-game winning streak en route to its second straight league title.
The 2009 season has just begun and already Houston is eight points behind co-conference leaders Seattle and Chivas USA. It has recovered from benign beginnings before, yet it's lacking three vital elements of past successes, and Robinson won't be back until midseason.
"It's a reality check," Davis told mlsnet.com. "Now we have to dig deep. We haven't had a good start in the last three years but it's no excuse. We feel like we are a better group than this."