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)

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Houston couldn't keep up

Astros fall to Blue Jays as Toronto gets homer-happy

Houston's bats couldn't keep up with Toronto's Saturday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With an offensive clinic in the opener on Friday night, which helped them handily defeat the Blue Jays, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park Saturday with a chance to secure another series. Toronto had other plans, though, reversing roles with Houston by getting big home runs to even the series.

Final Score: Blue Jays 8, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 17-16, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Steven Matz (5-2)

Losing Pitcher: Cristian Javier (3-1)

Toronto flips the script and turns on their offense against Javier

Toronto flipped the script from the night before early in this middle game of the series, dealing damage to Cristian Javier, who so far in 2021 had been able to limit his amount of earned runs. After retiring the first four batters he faced, a one-out walk in the top of the second set up the Blue Jays' first hit of the night, a two-run home run by Cavan Biggio, giving them a 2-0 lead over Houston.

After a leadoff home run made it a 3-0 score, Javier would deal with the fallout of more walks in the top of the third, issuing two to set up a two-out two-RBI double to give the Jays a commanding 5-0 advantage. Javier would battle back and complete five full innings, getting one out into the sixth before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to make the call to the bullpen. His final line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, 91 P.

Alvarez keeps mashing as Houston tries to claw back into it

Javier would exit with at least some runs on the board in support of him, with Yordan Alvarez hitting a two-run opposite-field homer in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to three runs. Alvarez accounted for another run in the next inning, coming through with an RBI-single to make it 5-3, which is where the game stood as Andre Scrubb would take over in the top of the sixth.

Scrubb finished that inning for Javier and returned for a 1-2-3 seventh to keep it a two-run game. Bryan Abreu was the next reliever, and he, too, was able to retire the Blue Jays in order in the top of the eighth. The Astros continued to chip away at Toronto's lead, getting another run in the bottom of the inning on an RBI by Yuli Gurriel to make it 5-4 heading to the ninth.

Toronto evens the series

Brooks Raley entered to try and keep it a one-run game with a clean inning, but instead, two runners would reach on a walk and error before Joe Smith would enter to try and strand them. Instead, a two-out home run put the game back out of reach at 8-4, with Houston coming up empty in the bottom of the inning, setting up a rubber match in the finale.

Up Next: This series's third and final game will be an afternoon start of 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Zack Greinke (2-1, 3.76 ERA) will try to add more wins to his record for Houston, while Nate Pearson will be making his 2021 debut for Toronto.

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