Houston Dynamo rediscover identity in Rivalry Week: "We can do great things" | MLSSoccer.com (2024)

In 2023, everything was seemingly coming up Houston Dynamo FC orange.

Powered by roster turnover, Ben Olsen’s coaching rebirth and a Best XI campaign from midfielder Héctor Herrera, the club made the Western Conference Final and won the US Open Cup. The Dynamo, for lack of a better phrase, were fun again.

Now, with the 2024 season approaching its one-third mark, where does that journey stand?

Like most teams around MLS, Houston remain a work in progress. But they also recognize a massive, Copa Tejas-style stretch awaits – starting with Wednesday’s visit to Austin FC (8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass) and continuing with Saturday’s home match vs. FC Dallas (8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

See, Houston lost to both rivals in April by a combined 3-0 scoreline. Despite all their accomplishments last year, bragging rights are on the line.

“We're not right now and I think we have to make sure we understand that,” Olsen said when asked if they’re the team to beat in Texas. “That was a tough week. You lose to Dallas and you lose to Austin in one week, that hurts. I know our fans weren't very happy with that and certainly the mood around the facility here wasn't great either.

“We'd love to get back at them. But it's going to be because we go about the game plan the right way, our concentration is high and we make good decisions, and then we make the plays that matter on both ends of the field.”

After a Hèctor Herrera account-opening stunner and an Aliyu Ibrahim answering game-winner, we rose past Sporting KC on the road for the first time since 2020.#Hustlin4More pic.twitter.com/52hStsJ0JF

— Houston Dynamo FC (@HoustonDynamo) May 14, 2024

The Houston way

The good news is Houston have regained momentum after a three-game winless skid – they're fresh off Saturday's 2-1 win at Sporting Kansas City. Aliyu Ibrahim secured all three points with his team-leading fourth goal of the year, and Herrera unleashed a golazo to open his 2024 account.

But the real highlight of that game, Olsen said, was Houston getting back to their identity.

“We get caught up in looking at some of these offensive numbers – we had this many passes, or this was our xG. It doesn't mean s--t if the points don't come,” Olsen said. “There's little plays on the offensive end that we're not making and there's little plays on the defensive end that we're not making. Usually, that's it. That's usually the story and that can be the difference in making the playoffs and not throughout a year.

“We weren't making enough of those little plays to put the points in the bank. It was just a reminder. Our staff had to look at each other and I think have some tough conversations, players to players, the staff and the players. We're all in this together. It's a really good group. The culture is strong and I really still believe in this group that we can do great things.

“But it's not gonna happen if we don't stay true to kind of who we are. It's really – the two things we talked about was making our own luck in and around the box offensively and then defensively, getting back to the habits that we had last year, a real urgency behind the ball, maybe at times more pragmatic and being able to suffer. It's not a big deal, but just some reminders.”

It's a road trip 🚍 #Hustlin4More pic.twitter.com/fvHYjIE0Xn

— Houston Dynamo FC (@HoustonDynamo) May 14, 2024

Herrera's back

As those reminders further settle in, Herrera is expected to keep building. The Mexican star missed the first two months of Houston’s 2024 season due to injury. And while the former Atlético Madrid and FC Porto standout has more levels to reach, relationships with those like Amine Bassi, Coco Carrasquilla and Artur are taking flight.

“It's been a fun process to watch the rust come off, and it doesn't take much for his rust to get off,” Olsen said of Herrera. “He's just such a high-quality player. The game is so easy for him and to watch him each game get more confidence in his knee and the physicality of it all, that was really what we were worried about or really concerned with more than, ‘Oh, can he trap and pass and make the final ball?’ This stuff is just such second nature to him.

“Our sports science has been very thoughtful and cautious in a good way about making sure that he keeps moving forward. … It's really just about making sure that we're doing what we can off the field for him to recover and then giving him the right prescription of minutes and playing him into fitness.

“Also, the way we can play with him on the field and without him, it's a very different team and it wasn't so much him out of rhythm. It was others out of rhythm on the field playing with him and remembering how quickly he sees things or being in different spots for him. He makes us braver on the ball and he's such a nice, nice piece there in the middle of the park that connects a lot of pieces.”

Feliz por el gol y la victoria 🤘🏻🦊 vamoooosss Dynamo!! @HoustonDynamo #HHTown pic.twitter.com/hStHgob1UJ

— Héctor Herrera (@HHerreramex) May 13, 2024

Baseline level

Whether it’s Herrera or another cast member delivering the crucial moment, Olsen returns to a simple point about his team.

“I understand why people talk to me about the team’s buildup and how it’s an enjoyable group to watch,” Olsen said. “That makes me proud. I like hearing that. I think our players enjoy the way we play.

“But we have to be careful in getting caught up in that. We didn't have success last year because we were an offensive juggernaut. We were successful last year because we were gritty. We were collective in how we defended. We looked after each other and our active defending was at a high level and we defended in a really desperate way.

“That's what we hung our hat on last year and that's why we had success. That's where we have to live. That has to be our baseline. And then on the day, if the soccer is good and we're able to score and the goal becomes bigger and we start hitting the net more, great. But we have to continue to understand that part is a huge part of our success. I think sometimes we're guilty of getting caught up in some of that as well. We had this many passes today or xG is high – like, again, it doesn't mean s--t if you don't get the points.”

Rivalry Week starts in Austin. Back for revenge.#Hustlin4More pic.twitter.com/oX7JBwOJ7B

— Houston Dynamo FC (@HoustonDynamo) May 15, 2024

Rivalry stakes

Honest assessment in mind, Olsen is confident that makeup will serve Houston well during Rivalry Week presented by Continental Tire.

Particularly with Austin, he notes strong relationships with coaching counterpart Josh Wolff and his staff. But in matches like this, and with Copa Tejas up for grabs, spirits go to the wayside.

“Before coming to Houston, I liked that team,” Olsen joked. “They were guys that I rooted for. It's a different thing now – that's okay, that's healthy. Relationships can still be very strong and on game day, they can still be the enemy and you want to go out there and make sure you're getting all the points.

“It's a hard one to answer. I know it's important to the Houston community and I know it's important to our fans, so that makes it very important to me is the short answer. Of course there's relationships and there's complexities to that, but as long as our fans hate Dallas and hate Austin, I guess I hate Austin and I hate Dallas too.”

Jonathan Sigal -

@JonathanSigal

Rivalry Week Matchday Houston Dynamo FC

Houston Dynamo rediscover identity in Rivalry Week: "We can do great things" | MLSSoccer.com (2024)

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