The Houston Dynamo knew it was time get up, dust themselves off and get a result following a tough-luck midweek loss that stretched their winless streak to four games.
And they did in impressive fashion Sunday evening in a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC, spoiling TFC's homecoming at newly renovated BMO Field and in the process stunning the large home crowd that had waited two months to see their team and new star acquisitions Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco.
At the middle of the performance was Giles Barnes, who started in the pocket with the captain’s armband in place of the injured Brad Davis. After missing a penalty kick in the 1-0 loss Tuesday to the San Jose Earthquakes, he was the spark plug for the Dynamo as they ruined the day for the Reds.
“We knew we were going to have to stand up and be counted,” Dynamo head coach Owen Coyle told MLSsoccer.com over the phone after the game. “We knew we were going to have to deal with the Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Giovinco; I mean quality players. Within that Giles was a huge part of what we wanted to do.
“His work rate, his application, Brad was missing today … I made Giles captain as well, and he really showed his quality and responded to the responsibility we gave him.”
After marking time in the first half, Barnes was a force in the second 45 minutes. The Brit fulfilled the role of playmaker, dominating the ball and sucking the life out of BMO Field with a succession of good plays.
The most notable was his roadrunner treatment of TFC captain Bradley as he streaked past him on a marauding run up the field. He capped the 70-plus-yard run by poking the ball into the path of fellow forward Will Bruin for what ended up being the game-winning finish.
“Every time he gets on the ball I get excited because I know the pace and power he’s got, and I also know the quality he’s got. That’s what he did today,” Coyle said. “Having missed a penalty during the week, he picked himself up as the captain and with the responsibility. He certainly responded to it today.”
The pressure epitomized Houston’s strong overall form on the day as Barnes was far from a one-man show. Houston’s midfield kept TFC’s talent at bay, Bruin scored his second of the season and the defense was good for long stretches in keeping the Reds attackers out of sync for the first 75 minutes.
It wasn’t all good.
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For the second game in a row, Houston saw a penalty kick saved. After DaMarcus Beasley and Alex Lopez worked a great give-and-go to earn the spot kick, Boniek Garcia had his initial chance saved before banging home the rebound.
Coyle talked about the team needing to close games out better as some missed marking nearly caught up to them in the final 15 minutes. Altidore stood wide-open six yards from goal to head home TFC’s lone goal of the afternoon and there were several late close calls where Houston defenders lost their marks on set pieces.
“We gave ourselves a nervy 10 or 15 minutes, but we’ve got to learn to manage those games and see them out as we did eventually today,” Coyle said. “Could we have defended better? Absolutely. But the boys stood up … we also stood up against the counter-attack.
“What we had to do was show everybody we’re not feeling sorry for ourselves … we could pick ourselves up as we did.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.