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Houston dynamic once again
by Ridge Mahoney, May 5th, 2009 7AM
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The four-time MLS runner-up Revs aren't what they used to be, but still Houston can take confidence from beating New England, 2-0, at Gillette Stadium Saturday night. That game marked the first time in 2009 the Dynamo played Dynamo soccer for nearly, if not all, of the 90 minutes, and perhaps clearly demonstrated how, and how well, it can play without Dwayne De Rosario, Nate Jaqua and Eddie Robinson, who have formed the spine of numerous championship teams. Since 2001, when the team was in San Jose, the Quakes/Dynamo have won four titles in five MLS Cup appearances.

"It was probably our most consistent and all-around performance," said head coach Dominic Kinnear to "I still go back to San Jose [a 3-2 loss in late March]. We played some great soccer that night, but defensively, we weren't on top of it. Tonight was our best, most consistent all-around performance of the year."

Even so, Houston needed a fluke goal from Stuart Holden to break a goalless deadlock midway through the first half. His roller somehow passed between the feet of keeper Matt Reis, who had been out for a month with a knee injury. Houston easily preserved that lead and added an insurance goal while outshooting New England, 14-3, and permitting just one shot on goal.

New England coach Steve Nicol left Taylor Twellman on the bench despite his team's offensive struggles and so desperate did the situation become he pushed midfielder Shalrie Joseph up top for the final 20 minutes. The Revs reverted to the 3-5-2 formation and while healthier are still well short of full strength.

Kinnear, though, needed to tweak his lineup when left back Wade Barrett limped off shortly before halftime. On came Canadian defender Adrian Hainault for his MLS debut, and the revamped Dynamo seldom let New England's talented youngsters Sainey Nyassi, Kheli Dube and Kenny Mansally break free. Midfielder Ricardo Clark covered an amazing amount of ground to keep tabs on Joseph and help out on the Revs attackers.

In the past two games, Houston has posted two victories, both by shutout. Brian Ching scored the only goal last week to down the Rapids, 1-0, and he assured the Quakes of victory last weekend by nailing home Brad Davis corner kick for the second goal. Still, Houston needed a spectacular double-save by goalie Pat Onstad to hold off Colorado after the Rapids were awarded a penalty kick, and during the furious scramble a ball rang off the Quakes crossbar.

Yet Kinnear has always regarded good fortune as a vital component for success in a league as finely balanced as MLS, where a team like Toronto can shoot from mid-pack to the conference lead by earning seven points in three consecutive games despite changing head coaches.

Two straight wins is scarcely cause for giddiness, as those were the first two wins of the season and Houston is just 2-2-2. But the manner of those victories - gritty, pressuring defensive play, offensive opportunism and efficiency on set pieces, players stepping up at critical moments - are very much typical of past success. Sunday's win also marked the first time Houston had beaten the Revs in the regular season since the team moved to Texas prior to the 2006 season.

While Holden can't be a straight-up replacement for De Rosario; he can be as effective in the middle as he was playing wide the past few seasons, but only if outside mids Brian Mullan and Davis are penetrating the attacking third on the flanks, and Kei Kamara or somebody else pairs up effectively with Ching. Otherwise, opponents can collapse on Holden and Ching and the Houston attack seizes up. Mullan and Davis must also work back to cover their flanks if the Dynamo is to retain its status as one of the league's top defensive teams.

Always regarded as a contender, Houston's slow start has dropped it far behind conference leader Chivas USA and expansion sensation Seattle. The Dynamo has ample opportunity to make up ground during this month. It has three of four games at home against teams that missed the playoffs last year (Dallas, San Jose, Toronto) and its road date is a shot at revenge for the Red Bulls upsetting Houston in the 2008 playoffs.


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