Alberth Elis (left center) played a part in all three Dynamo goals against Whitecaps FC. Photo by Diego Dlouhy/SportsMap Houston.
The Houston Dynamo picked up their second win of the season with a 3-2 result over Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday afternoon. Homegrown midfielder Memo Rodriguez scored his first MLS double, building on his MLS Goal of the Week performance last week, to help the team improve to a 2-0-1 record.
Here are five observations from the win:
1) Got the three points
Houston Dynamo vs. Vancouver Whitecaps | HIGHLIGHTS - March 16, 2019www.youtube.com
This was a back-and-forth match that could've gone to either side. While Vancouver didn't generate half of the Dynamo's opportunities, they certainly did enough to scare Houston with the goals they scored in each half.
Vancouver winger Lass Bangoura entered at the beginning of the second half to reignite the offense for the Canadians, tying the game at 2-2 in the 54th minute. Alberth Elis, who was vital in the Dynamo's first goal, assisted Rodriguez on the game-winning goal in a play that relied heavily on his speed to outrun Whitecaps midfielder Victor Giro. Vancouver would keep pressing to tie the game but the Dynamo outlasted them to get the win.
To get seven points (out of nine possible) to start the season is great during any year but credit to the Dynamo for doing so with the added schedule of the Concacaf Champions League, an obligation that has seen them play a total of seven games in the last month. It's the best start so far from an MLS CCL participant this season and, while they've yet to face any of the league's heavy-hitters, it's a noteworthy feat.
2) Memo and Lundkvist state their case for more minutes
Memo Rodriguez was ticked off on his way to the team bus after Tuesday's 1-0 loss at Tigres UANL where he didn't feature despite scoring the MLS Goal of the Week last Saturday vs. Montreal. The 23-year-old only used it as fuel and showed up with two goals this week, stretching his case for more minutes after playing only 1,050 in his previous two seasons combined.
Adam Lundkvist, the club's third-highest earning player in 2018, put forth a good performance in that match against Tigres after subbing in the 20th minute due to a DaMarcus Beasley injury. He fared well, making his case to challenge the four-time FIFA World Cup veteran for the starting job. With Beasley out due to a knee injury, Lundkvist got the start and was heavily involved in the offense - posting a team-high seven crosses.
3) Alberth Elis back on the prowl
One of the stars of the team, Alberth Elis, had his best performance of 2019 by far. It was a good sight for Dynamo fans and one that was due after the Honduran forward's quiet start to the season. Elis is expected to be one of the catalysts of the Dynamo offense but had only generated six shots through the team's six matches in Concacaf Champions League and MLS combined. On Saturday, Elis looked more like the version of himself that started 2017 with eight goals and five assists in the first 12 games - catapulting him to a 2017 MLS All-Star appearance.
"La Panterita" (the little panther) along with teammates Romell Quioto and Maynor Figueroa will join Honduras for an international friendly against Ecuador on March 26 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
4) Midfield holds up
One of the big questions coming into 2019 was how the team would fare if midfielder Juan David Cabezas was sidelined again. JDC was a big part of the Dynamo's success in 2017 and his absence last season was felt in the standings. After just one game this season, Cabezas is injured again and his return is unknown. Argentine Matias Vera, one of the team's key offseason acquisitions, has fared well and has obviously given the team the important depth it was lacking at that position. What remains to be seen is how they are tested against better opposition or more challenging situations - like going on the road, which they'll do for their next match. For now, it's so far so good for the Houston Dynamo.
5) The attendance issue
#HOUvVAN during national anthem. Attendance announced: 13,549 #mls #foreverorange https://t.co/4hnAEFc5E5— Victor Araiza (@Victor Araiza) 1552787189.0
Saturday's announced attendance for Houston vs. Vancouver was 13,549 - bringing the season average for MLS matches up to 14,641 per match. In an interview after the match, Houston Dynamo President John Walker said the following:
"We know we have a ways to go to actually do that but it's been sort of a steady decline over the last several years...We're trying to reach out to some of our past fans in ways that we haven't reached out to them before. It's really about building relationships with the fanbase and, third, the magic bullet there is for the team to play well - and they're playing well so that on its own should build some momentum. It'll be work in progress. It'll take us a couple of years to build the base back up but we feel good about the things that we have in place."
#ForeverOrange Manager Wilmer Cabrera on if the team [staff + players] is doing enough to connect with the communit… https://t.co/UZWCDU6QCg— Victor Araiza (@Victor Araiza) 1552790721.0
Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera added that the team is doing their part by providing results on the field but that is as much as the coaches and players can do.
Dynamo player of the game: Alberth Elis
"La Panterita" was all over the field on Saturday, taking part in all three Dynamo goals. He assisted the two Memo goals and drew the foul for the penalty and converted it. The question, long-term, will be consistency as the Honduran had a great start to 2018 but flared out as the season went on.
👏 @alberthelis17 makes his way into the @MLS Team of the Week presented by @Audi! @40_jrod also makes the bench:… https://t.co/bBw2BdFOtv— Houston Dynamo (@Houston Dynamo) 1552938006.0
Saturday, March 30th at Colorado Rapids (8:00 p.m. CT, KUBE57)
There's still time to get your ticket, come support Houston in our effort to be a World Cup Host City!… https://t.co/16Fc8kNBsy— Houston Sports (@Houston Sports) 1552674236.0
The Dynamo have no game this week thanks to the FIFA break that sees leagues worldwide take a pause for international fixtures. BBVA Compass Stadium will see action during this window with the U.S. Men's National Team hosting Chile on March 26.
Ronald Acuña Jr. and Corbin Carroll just got a little more dangerous. Same for Bobby Witt Jr., Elly De La Cruz and the rest of baseball's fastest players.
Major League Baseball wants umpires to crack down on obstruction, and the commissioner's office outlined plans during a call with managers this week. MLB staff also will meet managers in person during spring training to go over enforcement.
The increased emphasis is only on the bases and not at home plate. The focus is on infielders who drop a knee or leg down in front of a bag while receiving a throw, acting as a deterrence for aggressive baserunning and creating an increased risk of injuries.
“I think with everything, they’re trying to make the game a little safer to avoid some unnecessary injuries," Phillies shortstop Trea Turner said Friday at the team's facility in Florida. “The intentions are always good. It comes down to how it affects the players and the games. I’m sure there will be plays where one team doesn’t like it or one team does.”
With more position players arriving at spring training every day, the topic likely will come up more and more as teams ramp up for the season.
“We'll touch on that. We'll show them some video of what’s good and what’s not,” Texas Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “You know, it’s going to be a little adjustment.”
Making obstruction a point of emphasis fits in with an ongoing effort by MLB to create more action. Obstruction calls are not reviewable, which could lead to some disgruntled players and managers as enforcement is stepped up, but it also means it won't create long replay deliberations.
A package of rule changes last season — including pitch clocks, bigger bases and limits on defensive shifts and pickoff attempts — had a dramatic effect. There were 3,503 stolen bases in the regular season, up from 2,486 in 2022 and the most since 1987.
MLB changed a different baserunning rule this offseason, widening the runner’s lane approaching first base to include a portion of fair territory. MLB also shortened the pitch clock with runners on base by two seconds to 18 and further reducing mound visits in an effort to speed games.
“Last year, you know, a lot of our preparation was around like, especially just the unknown of the clock and making sure like we’re really buttoned up on that," New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "These guys are so used to it in so many ways that sometimes I even forget.”
Increased enforcement could lead to more action on the basepaths. But a significant element of MLB's motivation is injury prevention.
Top players have hurt hands or wrists on headfirst slides into bases blocked by a fielder. White Sox slugger Luis Robert Jr. sprained his left wrist when he slid into Jonathan Schoop's lower left leg on a steal attempt during an August 2022 game against Detroit.
“It’s been happening for a while. It’s been getting out of control," Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “I know some of the players complained about it the last two years.”
While acknowledging his reputation as a significant offender, Phillies second baseman Bryson Stott didn't sound too worried about his play.
“We like to fight for outs at second base,” he said. "It’s never on purpose, blocking the base. For me, or someone covering second to the shortstop side, it’s a natural move for your knee to go down to reach the ball. It’s never intentional. I guess we’ll figure out how to maneuver around that.”