SANDY, Utah -- The Houston Dynamo’s game plan on Saturday was to be solid defensively and see if they could find a goal with their stable of forwards. It was a midfielder—specifically, Alex—who changed that plan, but the result may well have been the same in their 0-0 draw with Real Salt Lake.
Alex was sent off after collecting two yellow cards in a minute. The first came on some extracurriculars with Albert Rusnak before a free kick in the 64th minute, and the second came on the ensuing play when he got a piece of Kyle Beckerman while going for the ball at the top of the RSL box.
It delayed Erick "Cubo" Torres, the Houston sub waiting to come into the game, and that delay changed the team's approach.
"The idea was to try to be solid defensively, try to hold them, and we knew we had fresh legs for the second half, but the plan changed when we lost Alex. So we had to execute something different and they responded very well," Houston head coach Wilmer Cabrera said.
Cabrera still replaced his forwards with fresh legs, subbing out Andrew Wenger, Memo Rodriguez and Mauro Manotas and replacing them with Alberth Elis, Boniek Garcia and Torres, but the Dynamo sat a little deeper and were able to keep the clean sheet on the road. That bit of the original game plan came through.
"When you don’t concede a goal during a game, it is always good," Cabrera said.
The offense, though, had to rely on opportunities to counter against the Salt Lake possession and to capitalize on their set pieces.
The second part nearly happened in the dying minutes of the second half. Dylan Remick pushed a ball over the goal on a free kick in the 86th minute that would have given Houston a chance at three points.
“When you have 10 men, set pieces are a very important weapon to try to win the game and we had that chance,” Cabrera said.
The game could have been different, but having to play down a man and coming away with a point on the road was still worthwhile moving forward.
"When you finish the game you say ‘That’s a good exercise for us,’ but you don’t want to repeat too many of these exercises,” Cabrera said.
For Salt Lake, the exercise was trying to find a rhythm through Houston playing behind the ball and taking its time on any stoppage. It was an example of Houston playing pragmatically for their point on the road, while Salt Lake struggled to find a goal and three points at home.
"That was a bit ugly and boring the way they killed the game and sat back like that, but they did what they had to do to get a point. Hat’s off to them,” RSL head coach Mike Petke said.
Houston are now unbeaten in four straight road games and have earned points in five of its last six away games. That type of consistency, shown in Saturday’s performance, is another good sign the Dynamo are ready for the season’s final 10 games and the chance to show what they have in the playoffs.
As Cabrera summed up, "We’re getting better."