Houston Dynamo's David Horst celebrates a goal against Sporting KC

HOUSTON – The Houston Dynamo made no mistake that they were looking to “evolve” in 2015 with new management in charge.

Part of putting that plan in motion was bringing in Spanish center back Raul Rodriguez, someone who was good on the ball in addition to being good defensively. And Rodriguez was penned into the starting lineup the moment he signed up.

Center-back incumbent David Horst, watching all this unfold, knew one thing: If he wanted to stick in the Dynamo backline he would have to step up his game.

“The good thing about a signing like Raul’s is that you know this team’s not resting on its laurels. They want to go out there and get those good players, they’re always looking to improve and I can’t stop them from doing that,” Horst told MLSsoccer.com. “The only thing I could do when I saw that this offseason was say, ‘You know what, I’ve got to put my head down and keep working hard in the weight room and keep working hard on the field, and if I keep doing that my chance will come.’”

Horst spent the first 10 games of the season bouncing between the starting lineup and bench waiting for a long-term opportunity. After a rough stretch that saw Houston give up nine goals in three games, head coach Owen Coyle felt the team needed a “freshen up.” The sturdy center back had his opening, and he’s made the most of it, starting Houston’s last five games and adding a physical presence to the backline heading into Saturday's away match against Horst's old team, the Portland Timbers (10:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE).

“Owen told me at the beginning of the year he liked my style of play,” Horst said. “It may not fit into what they are necessarily doing, but if I keep working hard my chance will come. It came, and I think I’ve taken the opportunity so far.”

Houston’s desire to shake up the defense in the offseason was warranted. The club had gone through its worst defensive season in 2014, which was riddled with injuries and goals conceded – a franchise-worst 58 of them.

Coyle wanted to add players who could play the ball with their feet, something that is down the list of Horst’s skills.

The formula initially worked as Houston held the opposition to four goals in their first seven games. But a two-game stretch of giving up eight goals in two games, against Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas, however, showed that the defensive mix needed a different ingredient. That’s when Coyle moved long-time starting right back Kofi Sarkodie to the bench, slid Rodriguez out wide and inserted the 6-foot-4 Horst in the middle.

“Those were two very physical games that we had against Kansas City and Dallas, and we need somebody to set the tone in those games,” Horst said. “Owen had a talk with me, and he was like, ‘We need somebody to come in and set that tone, win every header and win every tackle.’ That’s kind of what I’m good at. I may not be the best playing out of the back, but I can win a few tackles for us.”

He’s done just that. Since Horst was inserted into the lineup the Dynamo have given up just six goals in five games.

With rangy players such as Rodriguez to his right, Jermaine Taylor to his left and bullying central midfielders Ricardo Clark and Luis Garrido around him, it has allowed Horst to bring his physical nature and ball-winning ways to the field.

He’s showed an ability to cut players out in one-on-one situations, no time more than when he stopped Spanish star David Villa in the box during Houston’s 1-1 draw against New York City FC on May 30.

“Dave, I think, has been a tower of strength,” Coyle said. “Since he’s come in you’ve seen the form he’s in, he looks as if he’s enjoying his work. He’s given us everything he’s got in every training session. I’ve been delighted for him, and I still think there’s more to come from him.”

Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.