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 first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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