The Houston Dynamo headed west to face league champion LA Galaxy with a game plan. Instead of forcing a style of play, Dynamo head coach Owen Coyle played the match-ups and it paid off.
Coyle tinkered with his lineup for the third time in as many games and slotted Nathan Sturgis into a three-man triangle in central midfield. Sturgis shrugged of a rough start to repay his boss, notching the equalizer and making Coyle’s tactical shift pay off with an all-around good game in a 1-1 road draw on Saturday night.
“I thought bringing him in there and making it a strong three in the midfield on a very big pitch against a top team it was a formation that we could play higher up the pitch with a decent ball and Nathan did that,” Coyle told MLSsoccer.com via phone after the game. “It worked well.”
Sturgis’ and the Dynamo’s night started horribly when David Horst vacated the center of defense and the midfielder was beaten by Robbie Keane to give up the game’s first goal in just the third minute.
“We were certainly disappointed to give up such a soft goal because you think all of a sudden your game plan is out the window and we focused on it all week,” Coyle said. “We picked ourselves up. We scored a great goal on a set play we worked on and we honestly had a chance to add to that.”
Coyle said the club worked on a set piece play that would get Sturgis loose on a late run after watching tape on LA.
“We know the Galaxy have an outstanding team but you look at their play and there would be space for Nathan to make a late run to try and go in for a second header if Jermaine [Taylor] or Horst could knock it back into his path,” Coyle said. “It worked real well.”
It was a good result for a team that’s still not close to where it wants to be in the attack. Houston conceded possession, getting out-passed 503 to 277 and struggling to gain long stretches of control, especially in the second half where LA pushed for a winning goal that ultimately never came.
“Coming here is not easy, we can be happy with a point, but we still need to play better, move the ball more and put teams on their heels a little bit more,” DaMarcus Beasley told the media. “We need better transition from defense to offense, I don't think we did it quick enough, they made some good plays.
“It was a tough game, you have to give our guys credit, we came back and got a goal off a set piece.”
Despite the offensive struggles, Houston held strong with work ethic and sound defense.
Goalkeeper Tyler Deric rebounded from last week’s mistake that cost Houston points versus Orlando City SC to show off his shot-stopping ability and youngsters AJ Cochran and Rob Lovejoy filled in for injured veterans Clark (chest) and Beasley (left hamstring), both of whom were forced to exit the match early.
It wasn’t a game Houston will want to play week-in-and-week-out; but it was a well-earned point for a team that needs to build momentum.
“In terms of the tempo we played at that’s how hard working I want them to be,” Coyle said. “We’re delighted with how the players went about it.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.