Leonel Miranda has waited for a breakout moment since joining the Houston Dynamo on loan in the offseason, and on Wednesday night in the US Open Cup, he finally got it.
The 20-year-old Argentine calmly slotted home an early goal in a 2-0 win over the USL's Austin Aztex to help Houston advance to the tournament's Round of 16. The more important result for him and the rest of the Dynamo's reserve-heavy lineup was a runout and a boost in confidence at the right time.
“I needed it,” Miranda, who has struggled to break into Houston's lineup, said through a translator after the game. “I think it's a beautiful opportunity for me and my teammates who haven't had many minutes. Truly for somebody who hasn't been playing, it's very important to get minutes."
For head coach Owen Coyle, the game could provide some answers to lineup issues that will face his club over the next six weeks.
“I know we certainly feel we’ve got some young talented players on our roster in need of game time,” Coyle said. “All in all, for me, it was all positives. There were a number of those players that needed game time, because three or four of those will be required to start at Portland.”
Those issues will hit home immediately, as the Dynamo will be shorthanded Saturday when they travel to face the Portland Timbers (9:30 p.m. CT, ROOT SPORTS).
Houston are sure to be without starters Giles Barnes and Jermaine Taylor, who are at Copa América with Jamaica, but could also miss injured veterans Boniek García and Brad Davis – who Coyle said will not travel for the weekend’s match. That will leave as many as four holes in the starting lineup and could open up a spot for a player like Miranda.
One player that seems a sure bet to cover one of those spots is Kofi Sarkodie. The right back started on Wednesday for the first time since being benched after a 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes on May 5.
“Did he have a difficult time? Yes, yeah I think he did, and we brought him out. I know he’s hurting,” Coyle said. “I know he wants to play. He’s not the only one that happened too. What we’ve got to understand is they come back refreshed and come back up for the fight.
“He’ll have every opportunity to come back in at Portland on Saturday, and that’s something we’ll look at. I’ve said before, you can do one of two things: You can feel sorry for yourself or you pick yourself up and get back to form you’re capable of. And Kofi’s been outstanding the last three or four weeks.”
Sarkodie has declined to speak with media since the benching, including after playing 90 minutes in Wednesday’s win.
When Coyle goes to pick his group, the performance vs. Austin will be fresh in his mind.
“That's important for us: that we have that strength and depth, so that we know if we're missing a few players that one or two can step in,” Coyle said. “I think it helps the players as well, because, physically, they feel better for that 90 minutes or 94 minutes that they were involved."
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.