HOUSTON 2, COLUMBUS 0
5 kicks from Houston Dynamo vs. Columbus Crew SC
The Houston Dynamo got back to winning with a 2-0 result over Columbus Crew SC on Saturday. Mauro Manotas and Tomas Martinez were the goalscorers that helped the team rebound from their 2-1 away loss the previous week while the defense earned their first shutout of the year.
Here are five observations from the win:
HIGHLIGHTS: Houston Dynamo vs. Columbus Crew SC | April 27, 2019 www.youtube.com
1) Home sweet home
With the win, the Dynamo extended their undefeated home record this season to a 4-0-1 mark. At 5-1-1 overall, five wins in the first seven matches is the fastest run to that mark in club history so the team has plenty to be happy and feel confident about.
In the bigger picture, it is important that the team is defending their home turf again. Their 12-1-4 home record in 2017 was key to their first playoff season in four years and it's no coincidence that they missed the playoffs last season after losing six matches at home - on top of their bad form on the road.
With four of the next six matches to be contested inside the friendly confines of BBVA Compass Stadium, the Dynamo would have played more than half of their home schedule before the Gold Cup break in mid-June. That means that a heavy road schedule awaits the team on the other side including six out of eight over the course of a month between June 22 and July 20. The latter end of the schedule isn't any more forgiving so it's a good insurance policy to see the Dynamo rack up points here early.
2) First shutout of the season
Manager Wilmer Cabrera had expressed his desire to see his defense come away with a clean sheet earlier in the season. On Saturday, they delivered. Joe Willis came away with four saves and the defensive line of DeLaGarza, Struna, Figueroa and Lundqvist naturally look more confortable starting together in their fifth competitive match.
In this case, the shutout serves more for confidence and maybe goal differential later in the season as this Columbus team was no match for the Dynamo, even if they had pulled a goal back. The bigger test for the Houston defense will come when they face the league's elite attacking players and that's where the defense will earn their paychecks this year.
3) Manotas breaks scoring drought
The Dynamo's top goalscorer in 2018 came in to this match riding a four-match scoring drought. The Colombian wasn't an absentee in those games, rendering four assists in that stretch.
Ultimately, forwards will get judged for scoring goals and making impactful game-changing plays. In the previous game against LA Galaxy, the Dynamo's most challenging opponent this season, Manotas could not generate that type of moment and, in the match before that against San Jose, he missed a penalty. It's good to see him back on the scoresheet but the best of the young Colombian is yet to be seen, especially if he wants to be called up to the Colombian national team.
4) Martinez becoming elite?
EVERY ANGLE: Martinez's strike vs. Crew SC www.youtube.com
Tomas Martinez put up a team-high 13 assists in 2018 but, just by the eye-test, he looks more engaged this season. Reaching double digit assists isn't exactly a given but it is the standard for the team's no. 10. More importantly, he looks more confortable with better support behind him in defense.
Martinez still has another level to reach and it's still to early to say how much improvement he will make this season. If he is able to replicate the type of success we have seen from some of the league's best midfielders like Portland Timbers' Diego Valeri or even D.C. United's Luciano Acosta, the Dynamo would gain another dimension in attack that would really put them in business. Easier said than done, however, but there's definitely some positive signs.
5) Boniek celebrated for 200 appearances
Longtime Dynamo midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia was celebrated right before kickoff for passing the mark of 200 games played with the club across all competitions (reached two weeks ago against San Jose). The 34-year-old has featured in every MLS match for the team this season and all but one across all competitions.
Unsure of his status with the club before the beginning of last season, Boniek has continued to provide the team with solid performances in midfield. He has undoubtedly stayed in the good graces of the manager, which is no surprise, given how many matches he's featured in over Cabrera's three season tenure - further showcasing the trust held in the Honduran legend.
How much longer can Boniek contribute to the club at this level? His professionalism and the way he's taken care of his body show no signs of that being anytime soon. Another 200 appearances may be too much to ask, however.
Dynamo player of the game: Joe Willis
Saturday, May 4 vs FC Dallas (3 p.m. CT, Twitter / Univision)