DYNAMO OPEN MLS SEASON WITH DRAW

Five quick kicks from Dynamo vs. Real Salt Lake

Mauro Manotas scored the Dynamo's lone goal in the 1-1 draw versus RSL. Photo by Diego Dlouhy/SportsMap Houston.

The Houston Dynamo opened their 2019 Major League Soccer season with a 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake. Mauro Manotas scored the game-tying goal in the 62nd minute to help the team to their first point of the year. The club now looks ahead to one of the most highly-anticipated matches in their history as Mexican side Tigres UANL comes to town on Tuesday night.

Here are five observations from Saturday night:

1) Alternate lineup gets the result

A big question leading up to this match was how the manager would handle the lineup knowing the test that awaits the team on Tuesday. Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera rested three of the four first choice defenders as well as defensive midfielder Darwin Ceren - giving longtime Dynamo Boniek Garcia his first minutes of the year. In the attack, he went with his best four of Martinez, Manotas, Quioto and Elis - the quartet responsible for 41 of the team's 58 league goals in 2018.

The game was a physical, chippy match full of mistakes that were expected from two teams coming out of preseason. Overall, Real Salt Lake were the better side in generating chances to score but the Dynamo were able to take a point (almost all three) thanks to solid goalkeeping from Joe Willis and the goal-scoring prowess of Mauro Manotas.

2) High-powered offense needs a jump start

Manotas' goal in the 62nd minute was the team's lone shot on target. On another occasion, that would be chalked up as a slow start to the season. Considering that they are about to face a top three Liga MX offense and one that averages almost two goals a game, that's not good enough.

The manager mentioned in his post match comments, "When one plays two tournaments, it is not easy to put the mind on both...but I give the benefit [of the doubt] to the players. They fought, they tried, they came from behind and even though we lacked that usual spark of the Houston Dynamo, we managed to improve throughout the game."

Maybe the players were unconsciously looking ahead to the next match, in the same manner that they may play cautious right before an international call up - as alluded to by the manager. Whichever the case, the Dynamo will likely need a two goal lead - at a minimum - if they want to advance past Tigres in the Concacaf Champions League. To do so, they'll need to play much better than they fared against RSL.

3) Goalkeeper Joe Willis in top form

Perhaps the biggest positive of the night, and of the three matches played this year, was the play of goalkeeper Joe Willis. He looks like he barely missed a beat in the offseason and continues to display the best form of his career in a Dynamo jersey. Against RSL, Willis came up with three pivotal saves that helped the Dynamo stay within closing distance on the scoreboard. Having him in goal should be a confidence booster for the team in the upcoming series with Tigres.

4) Dynamo may be battered and bruised

The big question is were the Dynamo are health-wise. Juan David Cabezas missed Saturday's league opener due to an injury he picked up in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 while Tomas Martinez limped off the field when subbed out in the 52nd minute against Real Salt Lake. The status of both players is in doubt for Tuesday's match, meaning the Dynamo could be facing Tigres without two of their best players in midfield.

5) Attendance still an issue

BBVA Compass Stadium was well below its full capacity prior to kickoff.Victor Araiza/SportsMap Houston

Over four months removed from their last MLS match and just over two months since the 2019 home openers were announced, the Dynamo were not able to rally 22,000 people out of the nearly 6.9 million that live in the Houston metroplex. The announced attendance for Saturday's match was 16,827 - by far the lowest for a Dynamo home opener 8-year history of BBVA Compass Stadium.

The first game of the season used to be one of the surefire dates for a crowd of 20,000-plus. Now it seems like the only guaranteed sellouts will be against teams with high-profile stars, as even the derby game against FC Dallas - another date that used to be one of the most attended - only pulled 16,544 last August.

The positive? Tigres UANL are coming to town on Tuesday and, even if the stadium will be full of mostly yellow-and-blue jerseys, it should be a great night for the BBVA Compass Stadium box office. If you don't have tickets yet, you may want to hurry: houstondynamo.com/tickets.

Dynamo player of the game: Mauro Manotas

Joe Willis was named the man of the match by the broadcast team of Glenn Davis and Eddie Robinson but I'm going to venture in a different direction with my vote. Willis is certainly deserving of the honor but I would argue that without Manotas' "striker's goal," the Dynamo finish the night with a loss. Willis' saves certainly kept the Dynamo in the match but Manotas' knack of scoring gave the team a point to start the season.

Next up:

Tuesday, March 5th vs. Tigres UANL, Concacaf Champions League quarter-finals first leg (9:00 p.m. CT, YahooSports.com)

The U.S. Women's National Team look to defend their FIFA Women's World Cup title and become back-to-back champs.

The Summer of Soccer is underway with the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup, UEFA Nations League and international friendlies all part of the schedule this past weekend. The action is about to kick into another gear with the start of the Concacaf Gold Cup and South America's Copa America this week. Here is the week in soccer:

FIFA Women's World Cup

The premier women's international soccer competition kicked off in France with a 4-0 win by the hosts last Friday to open the competition. France is one of the favorites, and pressured to win, due to their role as the home team. The French women are also looking to match their male counterparts that became World Cup champions last summer at Russia 2018.

Germany, another of the favorites, opened their campaign with a 1-0 win over China while 2011 Champions and 2015 Runners-up Japan were held to a scoreless draw against what could be a Cinderella team in Argentina. England and Scotland faced off for the first time at the World Cup, men or women's, with the Lionesses winning 2-1 while potential dark horse Canada picked up a 1-0 win over Cameroon.

The defending champion United States joins the fray on Tuesday (2:00 p.m. CT, FOX) in what will likely be a multiple goal clinic against Thailand. For all the basics on the Women's World Cup, check out this article.

UEFA Nations League

The first ever Nations League, an attempt to get rid of "meaningless" international friendlies, looks to have been a rousing success and it could not have finished in a better way in terms of garnering media attention. European football's golden boy Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal, the current European champions, to a second European title in three years with a 1-0 win over the Netherlands.

Concacaf Gold Cup

The biannual tournament to determine the champion of North America, Central America and the Caribbean - the region governed by Concacaf - kicks off on Saturday. The United States enter as the defending champions but it is Mexico, the nation with the most titles in the competition, who enter as the favorites to win it all.

Mexico fared well with a 3-1 friendly win over Venezuela in Atlanta on Wednesday followed by a 3-2 win over Ecuador on Sunday up in Arlington, TX. The United States enter with doubts after a 0-1 loss to Jamaica in Washington D.C. and a 0-3 loss to Venezuela in Cincinnati.

CONMEBOL Copa America

South America also has a tournament kicking off this weekend in the revered Copa America. Hosts Brazil are always in the spotlight because of their star-studded squad and will be expected to win despite losing Neymar to injury this past week. Of course, as it has been for several editions now, the main storyline will be if Lionel Messi can finally lift a trophy with Argentina. With what many consider as the best in the world (and best all-time by others) in his prime, the time seems now or never for Messi to conquer the quadrennial tournament as well of the hearts of his country - and what a story it would be to do it on rival turf.

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