Vancouver’s road unbeaten run came to an abrupt halt Wednesday night in Houston, with the Caps falling 4-1 to their rivals in the race for a top four finish in the Western Conference.
A clearly fatigued Caps side wasn’t able to penetrate the fortress that has become Shell Energy Stadium, while a collection of defensive errors and a tired attack didn’t help matters much.
The Caps opted to rest a few players from their win over Toronto over the weekend, with Pedro Vite and Javain Brown entering the lineup to spell Alessandro Schopf and Ranko Veselinovic. Andres Cubas is also back to full health and slotted into his customary midfield role.
Houston’s only opportunities early came from set pieces and their first goal was unlucky for the Caps. Javain Brown was whistled for a foul just outside the penalty area and Hector Herrera’s free kick deflected off Brown on the wall and past a rooted Yohei Takaoka.
The first half was otherwise a bit of a stalemate. Houston’s high press system forced the Caps to build out of the back and string together a lot of quick passes. Sometimes they did this with breathtaking efficiency, only to let the final ball let them down. Other times they played with fire and nearly got burned.
With a Houston defense content to clog up the middle of the park, Vancouver’s best chances in the first 45 minutes came from distance. Pedro Vite and Ali Ahmed both forced Steve Clark into uncomfortable saves but couldn’t really manufacture any clear cut shooting chances in the box.
Shortly before the halftime break, Houston doubled their advantage. A deflected long ball fell to Griffin Dorsey, who the defense oddly backed off, giving him plenty of time to curl in a perfect strike into the top corner of the net. It was the first real defensive error from Vancouver and the uber-efficient Dynamo attack made them pay.
Vanni Sartini wisely opted to bring on Junior Hoilett for Ryan Raposo and Sebastian Berhalter for Cubas. Hoilett’s debut seemed to immediately give them a spark and helped the Caps become a bit less predictable and threaten a bit more from wide areas. This was accompanied by a move back to the 4-2-3-1 to try and get Hoilett into more promising areas.
But the Caps efforts stretched them thin and left them exposed at the back, even with the new formation. Sub Ivan Franco had a gut busting run that no one picked up and Brad Smith pinged in a perfect ball, which Franco pushed past Takaoka to make it 3-0 and lift the Dynamo firmly out of sight.
That didn’t stop Houston from adding a fourth, also off a counter, where Ibrahim Aliyu tapped in a deflected pass from Hector Herrera, who collided with a defender in the process.
A late own goal from Houston pulled a goal back for the Caps late to deny them a clean sheet and help salvage the goal differential a little bit.
- No idea what Tristan Blackmon was thinking in not engaging on Houston’s second goal. I have no qualms with Blackmon more broadly but he has some absolutely baffling moments and certainly had a couple tonight. Ranko deserved a rest but was sorely missed tonight.
- Corey Baird should have been sent off for a horror tackle on Ali Ahmed. Ahmed in general was a bit of a punching bag in this one for Houston defenders and you really hope he isn’t too dinged up given his injury history this season.
- After one of his best performances of the season (and the heavy volume of minutes he’s been getting), it was natural that Ryan Gauld would have a bit of an off night. Given his form, you can’t blame Gauld for wanting to take men on or try shots himself but there were a few opportunities where he would have been better off playing in a teammate.
- It isn’t like Gauld was the only one with a night to forget. Houston is tough to break down at home for a reason and they didn’t yield an inch and the Caps’ fairly predictable attack had trouble making them work for it. Given the Dynamo’s strong form, it was just about the worst time on the road trip to have this match and it showed. Not a big deal, time to shake it off and move on to a more favorable match in Salt Lake City on Saturday.
- The one silver lining was a first look at Junior Hoilett and it was a promising one. The introduction of Hoilett was accompanied by a formation change and it gave them an immediate boost to start the second half. That sputtered out but Hoilett was probably their most dangerous attacking player and should be a prime candidate to start on Saturday.
Man of the Match
Obviously there aren’t a ton of strong candidates here but I would go with Hoilett, who was the most impactful player on the pitch for Vancouver and gave a wide attacking threat that the Caps lacked to that point. Ali Ahmed and Richie Laryea asked some dangerous questions at times as well, though both had their fair share of sloppier moments as well.
Own goal is also an acceptable answer here.