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Free kicks: Reaction to the Dynamo’s win over Real Salt Lake

The Dynamo outdid themselves Wednesday night with a 5-1 win over Real Salt Lake at BBVA Compass Stadium.

The victory vaulted Houston to the top of the Western Conference table all by themselves, which is saying something for a team that finished on bottom of the table last year.

The Dynamo’s four goal scorers were Alex, Mauro Manotas, Erick Torres and Leonardo. Alberth Elis had two assists. The opening goal came in the third minute on an own goal by Real Salt Lake’s Justin Schmidt.

Here are some thoughts:
1 – Being in first place less than half way through the season may not seem like much, but the way the Dynamo have gotten there is significant. On the heels of two poor road performances, the Dynamo looked strong in Sunday’s 0-0 draw at FC Dallas. Rather than coming out slow and sluggish in a game three days later, they looked confident and hungry while turning in the most productive attacking performance of an already high-scoring season. The players’ confidence is at its highest level right now, and if they follow through with another positive result at Seattle this weekend things could really start to take off. Nobody is giving anything to Houston yet, but the sample size is large enough now that it should not be surprising the Dynamo are the top-of-the-table Dynamo.

2 – Part of having a first-year coach is learning on the fly. Wilmer Cabrera has taught new things throughout the preseason and the regular season. While some ideas have taken longer than others for the players to grasp and execute, they mostly have done a good job. When the defense needed a break from chaos, Cabrera switched to a 4-4-2 and the players turned into a 2-0 win over San Jose. When the mentality on the road needed to improve, the players finally got it right against FC Dallas. The latest idea Cabrera wanted the players to work on was connecting more with one another in the final third. Houston has players who can create individually, but on Wednesday they showed they can play with each other, too. They were so good that they had seven assists on four goals. It is difficult to get two assists on one goal. The Dynamo did it on three. The Dynamo are far from a finished product, but the improvement during the first three months suggests they are on their way to be pretty good.

3 – The Dynamo have more than a new coach. They have a lot of new players, too. Even if the coach is the same it is going to take time for a largely new group to build chemistry. Cabrera and the players have talked about that all season, but after Wednesday’s game Cabrera finally said he believes the team starting to make strides with chemistry. It is visible in the way the defense has become better at blocking shots and stepping into empty spaces and in the way the forwards connected with one another against Real Salt Lake. The Dynamo never expected to be great from the season’s onset because they knew they still had to get to know one another. The players first gathered for the preseason five months ago. If the team chemistry continues to improve at the current rate, the Dynamo might really have something special come playoff time.

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