Houston 1, LA 2

5 kicks from Houston Dynamo at LA Galaxy

The Houston Dynamo played in special edition adidas x Parley eco-friendly kits as part a league-wide Earth Day celebration. (Photo by: Amador Lerma/Houston Dynamo)

The Houston Dynamo suffered their first league loss of the season in a 1-2 result at LA Galaxy on Friday night. The nationally televised affair featured two top five teams in the Western Conference where star forwards Zlatan Ibrahimović and Alberth Elis traded penalties. The match was decided in the 88th minute when LA's Diego Polenta scored the game-winner on a corner kick.

Here are five observations from the loss:

HIGHLIGHTS: Houston Dynamo at LA Galaxy | April 19, 2019 www.youtube.com

1) Back to the road woes?

The Dynamo have found it difficult to win on the road in recent years, with a 2-19-5 record during Manager Wilmer Cabrera's first two seasons with the club. The Dynamo won their first road test of this season last month with a 4-0 result at the Colorado Rapids. Friday, however, was their first test against quality opposition.

Houston certainly looked a more confident side away from home and one with a bit of swagger to push forward. The team had plenty of opportunities to see out the win and wasn't the "counter attacking team" they were labeled as being.

They were five minutes away from coming away with at least a point but could not hold on to the result. The main positive is that it looks like the Dynamo will fare better on the road this season. Until they start delivering more wins, however, they haven't proven anything yet.

2) Loss was not A.J. DeLaGarza's fault

Defender A.J. DeLaGarza got the major share of the blame from fans. AJD was the player who fouled Ibrahimović to concede a penalty in the 29th minute, which was then converted into a 1-0 Galaxy lead, and was also the player beat on a corner to concede the game-winner in the 88th minute.

Given the spotlight on him on the night, it's easy to point the finger but it also doesn't get decided by those plays if the Dynamo had taken care of business on the attacking front. DeLaGarza does look like he's lost a step or two from his best years, naturally at 31 years of age, but he is still the best player available at the right back position.

3) Lacking effectiveness

Dynamo "have to capitalize" on opportunities in loss to LA Galaxy www.youtube.com

Dynamo Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera said after the match, "We created the chances but we lacked effectivity to make simple passes and give the best-positioned player, in that situation, the opportunity to score...and in these types of games, you have to capitalize those opportunities."

Quite possibly, the biggest thing the team is lacking is a difference maker - whether that be a midfielder or a forward. LA Galaxy has one in Ibrahimović, other teams around the league have on as well - LAFC with Carlos Vela, D.C. United with Wayne Rooney, Toronto FC with Alejandro Pozuelo, etc. Alberth Elis and Mauro Manotas have shown the potential of being that type of player but only when they do it consistently - and that means against quality teams as well, not just against the league's bottom feeders like Colorado and San Jose - can the Dynamo elevate their game to another level.

To put it in simple terms, the Dynamo needed a moment of brilliance to come away with the three points on Friday night - that moment never came.

4) Team is improved, but how much?

Offseason additions Aljaž "Kiki" Struna, Maynor Figueroa and Matías Vera have given the team more stability in defense. That much was seen earlier in the season but also confirmed against a team that can pose some danger like LA. The Dynamo, barring a catastrophe, will not finish 9th in the West like last season but that also doesn't mean they'll be among the top teams at the end of the year.

The potential of this team still remains a mystery and we'll know more in the coming weeks as they face stronger opponents and as they add players returning from injury like Juan David Cabezas, who played 11 minutes at LA, and Romell Quioto, who has been out for the past three matches and missed on the attacking front. If and when these players reclaim their place in the starting XI, that's when we'll be able to see the Dynamo firing on all cylinders.

5) How will the Dynamo respond?

The Dynamo have five matches scheduled over the course of the next month, four of those at home. Their opponents: Columbus Crew, FC Dallas, Seattle Sounders (away), Portland Timbers and D.C. United.

This stretch of games will be a better barometer of where the Dynamo are among their peers. They will be expected to defend their home turf but that will be easier said than done. They've gotten a good start to the season, which is the biggest positive, and coming out with a winning record will set them up well for a summer where they are expected to lose players to international competition.

Dynamo player of the game: Alberth Elis

"La Panterita" (little panther) earned the penalty that put the Dynamo on the scoreboard and was the player that provided the most danger to LA's defense.

Next up:

Saturday, April 27th vs Columbus Crew SC (7:30 p.m. CT, KUBE57) [ESPN+ for U.S. non-Houston markets]

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Houston loses in San Francisco

Astros drop back-and-forth middle game to Giants to even series

Houston's offense couldn't keep up with the Giants on Saturday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With the impressive win in the opener to start the series, the Astros entered Saturday's middle game against the Giants with an opportunity to not just secure the series but surpass San Francisco for the best record in the league. They'd have to wait to take that crown, as the Giants would out-slug the Astros to even the series.

Final Score: Giants 8, Astros 6

Astros' Record: 64-41, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jay Jackson (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-3)

Teams trade blows early, Giants chase Greinke out early

The teams traded blows early in this one, with the Giants tagging Zack Greinke with six runs, all on homers. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the second to start the scoring before hitting one in each inning through the fourth: two-run blasts in the third and fourth, then a go-ahead solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, putting them ahead 6-5 at the time. Greinke would face one more batter, allowing a single to end his lackluster day: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 P.

Houston's offense kept things close to try and keep Greinke in a position to win, going up 3-1 in the third on a two-run Aledmys Diaz homer and another coming in on an error. After San Francisco scored four unanswered to make it 5-3, Diaz homered again in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to one run before Yuli Gurriel would tie it with an RBI double.

Astros stay in it, but Giants even the series by winning the slug-fest

With Greinke exiting with no outs in the fifth, Houston handed the ball to Phil Maton, acquired in the recent Myles Straw trade, to make his debut for his new team. He worked himself into a jam, allowing a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out, but was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to strike out the side and strand all three runners, keeping it a one-run game.

That proved pivotal in the top of the sixth, as with two outs, Martin Maldonado would launch a game-tying solo homer, making it 6-6. Blake Taylor took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the inning but would face just three batters, getting two outs while leaving one on as Dusty Baker moved on to Cristian Javier. Javier would watch the Giants retake the lead, getting back-to-back singles to bring in a run and make it 7-6.

Javier stayed in the game in the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single but erasing it by striking out the next three batters. Still a 7-6 game in the bottom of the eighth, Yimi Garcia made his Astros debut but did not keep the score there, allowing a leadoff solo homer to make it a two-run game. The 8-6 score would go final as Houston's offense came up empty again in the top of the ninth, setting up a rubber game in the finale.

Up Next: The series finale will get underway at 3:05 PM Central on Sunday in San Francisco. Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.19 ERA) will take the mound for Houston, going opposite Logan Webb (4-3, 3.36 ERA) for the Giants.

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