HOUSTON – The results have been tough to swallow in recent weeks for the Houston Dynamo. In fact, they’ve been downright damaging.
But if there’s a silver lining – and you really have to look for it – it’s the opportunities earned by some players who have taken advantage of injuries and international absences. At the top of that list is Alexander López and Jason Johnson.
“They’re learning on the job as far as MLS goes and what we expect of our players, but I’ve thought they’ve done OK,” manager Dominic Kinnear said. “They’re not overawed by the occasion.”
Houston’s first young Designated Player, López got his first MLS start on Sunday against a high-profile opponent in the New York Red Bulls and he made the most of it: running the show from the middle of the park and dishing passes out of midfield to ignite the Houston attack.
Playing in his more comfortable central midfield position, a spot that Kinnear also alluded to being a better fit for him, López showed that he can be a difference-maker with his passing ability. But there's room to grow.
“We’re trying to get him to not come back towards the ball every time,” Kinnear said. “We think he has the ability to be more dangerous higher up the field and that’s what we’ve asked of him.”
According to striker Will Bruin, keeping López in danger areas can be a good thing because of his vision.
“He’s good with the ball on his feet and he is a two-way player," Bruin said. "He’ll be a help down the road. If we can get him on the same page the goals will come in droves.
“We’ll work on his English a little bit,” Bruin continued. “In that central midfielder role you’ve got to be able to organize and talk. He’s got to get comfortable. You see it with everybody that comes to the league; it takes them a little while to get comfortable."
Not to be outdone, Johnson was on the receiving end of López’ first MLS assist and scored his first MLS goal in the process.
“Every game he’s played in he’s had chances to score, whether its five minutes, 45 minutes or the full 90; he seems to get chances,” Kinnear said about Johnson, who has started the last two games on the flanks. “He puts himself in good positions and it’s about finishing. Obviously he took his goal very well.”
With seven matches remaining in the season, Houston are still in a dogfight for the playoffs, but they could be getting some help could pay dividends for some young help down the stretch.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.