For two consecutive home games, the Houston Dynamo have squandered a multiple-goal lead, allowing their opponents back into the game and creating some tension-filled final minutes. In both games Houston ultimately prevailed, but for a team that prides itself on its defense, the inability to kill off the last two matches has caught the attention of the Dynamo coaches and players.
"It's a concern because it's happened now twice at home," said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear.
Against D.C. United on Aug. 1, the Dynamo led 3-0 entering halftime. Coming out of the half, D.C. scored a very quick goal and fought its way back into the game, then scored twice late before Houston held on for a 4-3 win.
Then in Sunday night's game, Houston entered the half with a 2-0 lead. In the first four minutes of the second half, the Fire hit for two goals to pull themselves level, although the Dynamo won thanks to a late penalty kick.
"You can imagine the talk at halftime before the second half started," said defender Wade Barrett. "Something along the lines of 'we were winning 3-0 against D.C. last week at the start of the second half and let's not do that again.'"
So what is the source of the recent trend?
First, some credit should go to the opposition. Chicago's Chris Rolfe and D.C.'s Fred both ripped impressive shots from distance that could beat any defense. However, on both goals no one stepped up to pressure the ball giving both opponents the opportunity to line up their efforts unencumbered -- something the Dynamo players noted was occurring not just in the second half against Chicago, but also in the first.
"We had some of the same breakdowns in the first half and didn't get punished for it," said Barrett.
Added Dynamo goalkeeper Pat Onstad: "The way we played in the first [half], we were slack in the back and just didn't get punished for it. Not many positives [about the defensive effort]."
For Onstad, the important thing is not about pointing fingers, but figuring out what the defense is doing wrong so it can be fixed, preferably in time for this weekend's trip to Real Salt Lake.
"I don't want to get into the problems as it's just one person's opinion," said Onstad. "I am disappointed with the way I performed. I don't like giving up two goals and I'm responsible whether it is goaltending or organizing the back four, so I have to hold my hand up that I didn't do a good job [Sunday]."
Still, if there is a positive, it's that the Dynamo attack came through at the other end, scoring a season-high four goals against D.C. United and then scoring three for the fourth time in a game this season against Chicago.
"We obviously let ourselves down in the second half," said Barrett. "Glad to get three points in a game where we learned another lesson."
"That's two home games in a row where it's been a bittersweet victory," said Onstad.
The good news for the Dynamo is that with no midweek game, the team can get in multiple practices and try to work on the problems. After coming off 10 games over a six-week period that included the MLS All-Star Game, the schedule hasn't provided a lot of practice time for Houston. However, the team also has five games over the next three weeks, so the window to cure the issues is a small one for Kinnear and his staff.
"Actions speak louder than words," said Kinnear. "I don't know if it's a trend because it's only happened twice, but you can't just let it slide."
Dwain Capodice is a contributor to MLSnet.com