On the left side of the Houston Dynamo lineup is a pair of U.S. Men's National Team veterans that provide experience, leadership and a whole lot of danger to opponents for the men in orange. Left back DaMarcus Beasley and midfielder Brad Davis patrol that side for the Dynamo and they are formidable.
But in last night's 1-0 win by Orlando City SC, the duo was held in check largely by the play of 20-year-old right back Rafael Ramos. The Portuguese U-20 international made life difficult on Houston's left side with probing runs forward, launching several crosses into the box from that side of the box. Defensively, he closed down quickly and forced everything toward the corner.
It was a breakout performance by a young man that had turned one of the preseason's more intriguing position battles into an afterthought just a few weeks into the exhibition season. Ramos distanced himself from contender Tyler Turner by a wide margin during camp and made the position his own.
On Friday night in Houston, Ramos showed why. Beasley is fast and Davis crafty, but neither was much of a factor in the game, aside from Davis on a few set pieces. Beasley wasn't involved in the offense much at all.
With Ramos getting forward, Brek Shea stayed home on the other side for the most part, keeping Orlando City from getting caught with both fullbacks forward.
If Ramos can continue to perform like last night, his future is bright in the City Beautiful.
On the injury front, Cristian Higuita was deemed unfit to travel due to a leg injury and Bryan Rochez didn't travel either. The Honduran forward was deemed not fully match fit. Higuita was replaced in the starting lineup by Darwin Ceren, a holdover from the USL days. Ceren played mostly well, but did have a couple of turnovers that directly led to Houston counterattacks.
Rochez being left home led the way for Pedro Ribeiro to dress in the 18-man lineup and he was the man who came on for Carlos Rivas and made the difference on the game's only goal. And it almost never happened. Rivas was subbed out because he tweaked his hamstring.
The only other lineup change was Sean St. Ledger stepping in for suspended center back Aurelien Collin, who served his red card ban.
Houston put two and three men around Kaká all night near the box and were very physical with the Brazilian, knocking him down often without getting whistles and deflecting several of would-be through balls. Despite the nature of the game, there were only two yellow cards in the game. Amobi Okugo took a tactical yellow by grabbing Boniek Garcia, who made a wonderful move to get around Orlando's defensive midfielder. Houston's Kofie Sarkody got one for taking down Kevin Molino from behind in the 40th minute.
There were no diving calls, nor should there have been. Both teams played hard, physical soccer. Houston fans did boo Sean St. Ledger for going down, but replays clearly show he got clipped hard in the mouth.
The Most Beautiful Thing You'll See Today
May I present to you this morning's MLS Eastern Conference standings: