Houston Dynamo FC spent this past offseason making a series of inter-MLS moves, the first of which involved acquiring winger Fafa Picault from FC Dallas back on Dec. 17 in exchange for $275,000 of General Allocation Money.
That move paid off Saturday afternoon, as Picault deposited a first-half penalty kick during a 1-1 draw at Toyota Stadium. In the process, he became the first player in Texas Derby history to score for both clubs – accomplishing that in the 40th regular-season meeting between these two rivals.
The 30-year-old could’ve encountered some nerves when stepping up to the PK spot, staring down former teammate Phelipe Megiolaro. But Picault didn’t waver, firing to the Brazilain goalkeeper’s left.
“To be fair, [Megiolaro] never stopped them in practice either, so I wasn't too worried,” Picault said postgame. “He's an amazing PK stopper, so I'm not going to take that away from him. But he never blocks my PKs and he knew where I wanted to go and was talking crap in my head. So I knew I had to shoot somewhere that he wasn't going to stop it and he didn't.”
Picault also grabbed an assist in Houston’s 1-1 draw against LAFC last weekend, creating momentum in his new surroundings. Capable of playing on the left or right, Picualt has 25 goals and 15 assists in 111 matches since coming to MLS in 2017, first with the Philadelphia Union. His last two goals occurred in a 3-0 FC Dallas win over Houston last Halloween, so it's fair to say the derby doesn't faze him.
“There's a lot because he gives that fear factor for the other team,” head coach Tab Ramos said of Picault's impact. “Number one, he's somebody that inevitably, if you have to defend him, you have to figure out how you're going to deal with him, in particular on the counter and also on the 1-v-1s wide. He's a good character off the field, he works very hard every day and that's the kind of culture that I think we can take steps forward with.”
Coming off a 2020 season where Houston finished bottom of the Western Conference standings, Picault and other MLS-experienced acquisitions like center back Tim Parker (ex-New York Red Bulls), midfielder Joe Corona (ex-LA Galaxy) and forward Maxi Urruti (ex-CF Montréal) are charged with elevating the Dynamo's on-field product.
Ramos likes what he sees so far, with Houston taking points in three of their first four matches – all against Western Conference opponents that made the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs.
“Our first 11 or 12 games of the season, no disrespect to any team obviously, but it's a pretty brutal schedule to start with,” Ramos said. “We're hanging in there, I think we're learning and once you keep hanging in there against all the teams that in theory would be on top, it gives you the confidence that you can be on top, too. So I'm hoping that that's sticking to us at this point, because I think there should be a belief at this point that we can be competitive against any team.”
Picault addressed that belief factor, noting how Houston were disappointed not to take all three points in the Texas Derby. They’ll have two more chances to do that in 2021, with FC Dallas visiting BBVA Stadium on Aug. 21 and Sept. 18.
Before then, Picault hopes to keep helping Ramos’ project come to fruition. They have a quick turnaround, too, returning home on Wednesday (8:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) to face Sporting Kansas City, last year’s No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
“That part of it, the mentality, which has been really important to me, is certainly in an upward trend,” Ramos said. “I see players fighting for each other, I see us fighting for the fans and for the team. That's something, when players get to that moment and when they start to love the club and they start to fight for each other, I think that's the moment you can start doing big things. I think this is maybe the beginning of that for us.”