Houston Dynamo had its fair share of critics following a second-rate 2010 season for the distinguished club, and questions and qualms swirled around like the sea of orange towels before anxious fans could settle in from their tailgate gaieties on Saturday.
The clean slate that purifies each team from any previous season’s woes was tainted just five minutes in when the Philadelphia Union drew first blood. Defender Danny Califf drove the dagger into the Dynamo’s upbeat spirit by notching his first goal in 29 career appearances for the Union. Defensive counterpart Sheanon Williams launched a throw-in toward the heart of the box, and Justin Mapp’s shot ricocheted off the crossbar. Califf alertly reacted and buried the ball from close range to the left of a helpless Tally Hall in the Dynamo net. The goal would stand for 85 minutes to lift Philadelphia to a 1-0 victory.
It was not the show that seasoned MLS coach Dominic Kinnear hoped to unveil nor was it the will of the four players selected from a swarm of Dynamo newbies to feature in the starting lineup. However, when the Dynamo veteran trio failed to capitalize on the best chance of the night, the team’s fate was all but sealed. In the 67th minute, Geoff Cameron linked with Brad Davis whom delivered a pinpoint low cross from the left only to see an onrushing Dominic Oduro squander the golden opportunity well high of the frame. Disappointment and fragmentary became the theme of the home-opening documentary.
The story began with the 2011 Houston squad composed of 10 players whom had yet to make their club debuts. That number was reduced to six when international signings Jermaine Taylor (Jamaica) and Hunter Freeman (Norway) took the field alongside offseason acquisitions Jason Garey (Columbus Crew) and Will Bruin (11th overall SuperDraft pick). Bruin, a 21-year-old forward out of Indiana University, became the first rookie to start on Opening Day in Dynamo franchise history. He led the team with six preseason goals, but could not produce a wonder strike in his 61 minutes in front of Robertson Stadium loyalists.
Indeed wonder and awe were conspicuously absent from the men in orange, but it wasn’t for lack of effort or opportunity. The Dynamo dominated the offensive stat sheet, registering 14 shots. Still, Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon and Dynamo ‘keeper Hall each recorded a manageable three saves.
A stagnant strike force required crafty midfield performances from four Dynamo regulars, especially captain and two-time team MVP Davis. Davis had a hand in 17 of the Dynamo’s 40 goals last year and was eager to provide an assist against Philadelphia if only a teammate would’ve accepted the duty to score. Davis’s eight corner kicks all seemed to meet a similar fate, headed away by a Union defenseman. Early in the first half, Cameron slotted through to Davis whose left-footed cross found Jason Garey, but Garey was unable to pull the trigger. Davis’s next cross was headed away by Califf, and his shot the following minute skipped harmlessly into the hands of Mondragon. Cameron then took the next cracks at net, although his 20-yard blast off a would-be Corey Ashe-Jason Garey assist was also deflected. Cameron danced through a flock of Union defenders much to the delight of the fans, but referee Abiodun Okulaja didn’t buy his spill just outside the box.
Union forward Carlos Ruiz provided the next clip of theatrics. Ruiz earned the game’s first yellow card in the 20th minute when he recklessly tackled Andre Hainault near the midfield mark. Just before half, Ruiz sought to land Hainault next to him in the books, but the referees didn’t fall for his head-clinching tumble. Instead, Davis (22nd minute) and Califf (44th minute) were the only players to be shown a yellow in a match that at first appeared to be destined for a brutal battle.
Califf’s early strike was the sole bruise that stung the 19,385 Dynamo diehards who were denied a reason to celebrate in the shutout defeat. Houston (0-1-0) next travels to Seattle (0-2-0) on Mar. 25 to take on a Sounders FC team that has twice emerged on the losing side of a 1-0 score line. The clubs split their 2010 series with each side capturing a home victory. The Dynamo is winless in Seattle (0-2-1) and sleepless in Houston, tossing and turning for the answer to rev up its offensive engine. It wasn’t a storybook beginning for the Eastern Conference entrants, but as for the remainder of the 2011 season, well, the rest is still unwritten.