The Houston Dynamo kicked off the season with a 2-1 loss against FC Cincinnati in the coliseum that is TQL Stadium. There is no way around the fact that this result is poor. There is no sugar coating things, a loss is a loss. I won't be patting the backs of La Naranja on there way back to the H. At the same time, I won't be calling for a complete rebuild (this is obvious, but you get the point). Houston performed about as well as they could in a 2-1 loss, and there are positives to take away from this.
For the majority of this game, the away team appeared to be what they were, a new team under a new coach with a ton of new players that were scared to mess up. Let me explain.
Picture courtesy of Fotmob.com
The lineup consisted of backline that featured only one starter from last year, Teenage Hadebe. Tate Schmitt, arguably our 3rd strong left back, was acquired this offseason from RSL in exchange for a 3rd round pick from the 2024 MLS Superdraft. Due to injuries and visa issues, Tate was thrust into the starting XI. Paired along with Hadebe is Ethan Bartlow, the 6th overall pick in the 2021 MLS Superdraft. After having made his first appearance in a 3-1 win against Inter Miami in 2022, Bartlow got 9 starts and 15 appearances across a handful of games last season. Franco Escobar was picked up through the free agency this offseason, with the general consensus being that he'd start.
Moving up into the midfield, while HH and Coco remained as starters, there was a new face among the trio. Artur, Brazilian CDM acquired from Columbus, was the man to fill in the shoes of Vera.
Ivan Franco was the new guy up top, flanking the left side of Sebastian Ferreira. The Dynamo brought Franco in on loan with option to buy from Club Libertad in Paraguay, the same team the Sebas came from. Their on-field chemistry will be something to look out for.
Nerves were high for all Dynamo fans as the whistle blew to signify the start of the match. The begging question that rang in all the fan's ears, "What if we are STILL bad"?
The beginning of the match started off slow, with both teams feeling each other out. There was a sense of indecisiveness in the air, with neither team wanting to make the first mistake. Then, in the 20th minute, a beautiful ball is played down the right side of the defense, leaving Escobar and Bartlow scrambling. Sergio Santos takes a precise shot to the right of Steve Clark, and into the back of the net. 1-0 to the bad guys. I thought Clark should have had his near post covered better, and I will have to put a little blame on the former Portland Timbers shot stopper. Of course, Franco and Bartlow are not innocent, either. Still, I would like Clark to do better in that situation.
The Dynamo could've lowered their heads and felt sorry, but they didn't. The response was immediate. Through set pieces and attacks through the middle of the park, the Dynamo appeared that they had a goal in them after-all. Late into the first half, Ivan Franco received the ball in Cincy's box and attempted a pass to the middle for an open Sebas. Alas, the hand of a Cincinnati defender blocked the pass and the, allowing Celentano to make a save and prevent a goal. While the potential hand ball was reviewed and declined, I beg to differ. obviously, I am biased, but it is surely not Ivan Franco's fault that the ball hit the CB's hand. While there was no movement to purposely stop the ball, it was an obstacle nonetheless. The entire game shift had the call been made.
Then, at the last kick of the first half, HH attempts a corner and beautifully finds the head of Dynamo newcomer Tate Schmitt who heads the ball into the net, tallying his debut goal. The set pieces from HH were pinpoint all night, and the efforts paid off when Schmitt puts the Dynamo on the board, equalizing 1-1 right before halftime. I have to imagine that Ben Olen was pleased with his team's performance and result heading into the locker room.
As the second half whistle sounded, the Dynamo start the half in a very Dynamo-fashion. Three minutes into the half at around the 48th minute-mark, Escobar is caught way too far up the field and Luciano Acosta has space to run. Artur, sitting on a yellow card already, does his best to maintain the attacker, but a clever back-heel finds an overlapping run and a dangerous ball into the box is followed by a goal. Cincy are up 2-1.
The goal was unfortunate to say the least. The shot was initially blocked by Teenage, and the ball bounced ungraciously in the net. Most of the time, that ball is out for a corner kick, or even better in the hands of Steve Clark.
The Dynamo found themselves behind yet again for the second time in this match. There were plenty of chances to score after the fact, but either the final ball was lacking or the shot on goal was miraculously saved by Celentano (who, to be fair, is a great shot stopper). Thor checked into the match late on for a disappointed Sebas. I thought that our star striker had a quiet game, one that he might want to forget. Thor's first touch of the ball was a shot about 6 yards from the goal off of a corner kick delivery from HH. Somehow, Celentano was bale to keep the ball out of the goal. The last opportunity came from Bartlow, who hit a first time half-volley from just outside the 18 yard box. Celentano does very well to get down low to stop the ball. Story of our life this game, it seems. This would be the last significant opportunity to split points with Cincy.
Overall, I thought that the team played good. I chalked up a loss before the match began, but this game went about as well as a 2-1 loss could go. We looked competitive against arguably a top 4 team in the east. We had our chances to score, and if the ball bounced our way a few times, we could have avoided a loss. Don't take my word for it, take a look at the stats.
Picture courtesy of Fotmob.com
Two things stand out to me in this graphic, and that us possession and shots. Very rarely last season, even in the case of a win, would Houston win the possession stat or have more shots. We had more passes, less fouls, and a better pass accuracy. The Dynamo were by no means outclassed by Cincinnati. Outplayed in some instances, sure. However, Houston were very much in this game. Our midfield was dominant throughout most of the match.
There were positive signs, and not everything was bad. A loss is a loss at the end of the day, though. There is no way around that fact. Id like to see the Dynamo better structured defensively in future games. Either Sebastian Ferriera needs to find a way to get open more often, or the team needs to find a way to get the ball on his feet. Thor touched the ball more often in his limited time than Sebas did, and that is an issue.
We can use this game as a stepping stone and learn from it. The foundation looks good, however. Onto the next. The Dynamo will face New England Revolution away on Saturday, March 4th at 6:30 pm CT.
As always, this has been Colin from Keeping Tabs, and remember to keep YOUR tabs. Goodbye and #HoldItDown