Have you ever hosted guests from out of town, and in showing them the top attractions and best spots in your community, you realize how much your hometown has to offer that you’ve been overlooking amid the daily grind?
Sometimes it takes a visitor to remind you of what’s right in your neighborhood. I thought of this phenomenon as the Houston Dynamo hosted Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and the LA Galaxy on a gorgeous-looking afternoon at BBVA Stadium.
This game sold out earlier in the week, and as intriguing as La Naranja’s rebuild under new coach Tab Ramos is for local and national observers alike, it’s not throwing shade on the Dynamo to conclude that the appeal of Chicharito’s MLS debut was a major draw given H-Town’s large Mexican-American population.
A funny thing happened on Cheech’s big day, though: True to their 2020 motto, the home team held it down for their city, and then some.
Quietish day for Chicharito on his Galaxy debut: 1 shot (off target), 9/12 passing, 1 key pass, 0/2 on dribbles, 3 fouls won, 2 defensive actions. Left isolated for stretches, and grew frustrated with it. #HOUvLA pic.twitter.com/tf6cebQAIY— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) February 29, 2020
Tab’s body of work with the US Under-20 men’s national team has shown his preference for an aggressive, front-foot style, and the Dynamo duly grabbed this bull by the horns. The hosts dominated possession, moved the ball crisply in their best moments and locked the Galaxy into their own half for long periods with their assertive pressing and re-pressing.
Cristian Pavon’s jaw-dropping solo strike was an early slap in the face, and a warning to Ramos as he acclimates to the daily MLS grind: There’s now enough top-shelf talent in this league that moments of individual brilliance can sink even the best-laid collective plans.
The fact that Pavon – a key member of Argentina’s 2018 World Cup squad and reputedly one of Lionel Messi’s favorite teammates – is playing second fiddle to Chicharito on this Galaxy side, at least in terms of exposure, is a case in point.
But Houston persisted, and over time asserted their control over the match’s rhythm and tempo, finally getting their reward when a smart pass from lively right back Zarek Valentin exposed dodgy positioning by Galaxy center back Giancarlo Gonzalez and set up Mauro Manotas for a well-struck equalizer.
Whether they came out for Chicharito or the home side, that play got most of the crowd out of their seats, and the boys in black kept the mood elevated with some gutsy emergency defending to preserve the deadlock in the final minutes.
It made for a fine spectacle on Univision’s national broadcast, and showed what an atmospheric venue BBVA can be. It’s no secret that Houston is one big market where the local team has room to grow in both reputation and relevance, and Saturday provided a handy case of what that can look like.
For some, the sight of superstars drawing big crowds to away games is a sore subject, a reminder of less prosperous days early in David Beckham’s MLS career. But more pragmatic types will tell you that every one of those Chicharito devotees is an opportunity for the Dynamo – and on Saturday La Naranja gave newcomers ample reason to come back and watch some of more of what Tab & Co. are cooking up.