HOUSTON – If Wednesday's blazing victory elicited encouragement in Minnesota United's season, the thud emanating from Houston on Saturday night was that momentum crashing to earth.
Days after Darwin Quintero and the Untied attack tantalized fans with an offensive display, a road game reminded of the club's bug-a-boos as set piece misery and a listless attack led to a 3-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo.
"There's nothing in the game and then the first two goals were set pieces again," coach Adrian Heath told reporters at BBVA Compass Stadium. "It's not like these were clever goals where you have to hold your hand up as a coach and go, 'That's a really good play and it's a good finish.' It's just a cross in the box and it's cost us again twice this evening.
"I'm disappointed with the level of commitment considering where we were on Wednesday."
Philippe Senderos rekindled the Loons' woes by scoring twice on corner kicks. He struck first in the 36th minute, roofing a knockdown from Alberth Elis, and then again in the 52nd, capitalizing on a Michael Boxall mistake to head home his second.
"It's Boxie's man tonight. Do we look at it? Do we assess and change the way we mark?" Heath asked. "Do we go zonal; do we do something? We've got to do something because we're killing ourselves virtually every week."
By the time Elis scored Houston's third goal in stoppage time, the Loons were resigned to losing the eighth of nine games away from home.
Heath praised the club's shape for most of the night, and until the final 10 minutes, Minnesota (6-11-1) forced Houston (7-6-4) to shots from distance or out wide.
That good work was undone when the ball stopped moving.
After Senderos' first goal, United made claims of a foul on Elis for pushing Boxall before heading the ball down to set up the goal. No whistle came, and the Loons were left wondering about their dead ball defense.
"We can go over set pieces a hundred times and the manager can tell us our responsibilities over and over again, and when it comes to put it in we don't do it," goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth said. "I think all of us need to take a look and take a little bit more responsibility, myself included."
On the other end, United's stagnant attack produced only five shots, and the team had a matching number of yellow cards. Quintero failed to live up to his midweek antics and the Loons' sleepy attack was relegated to two good chances early from Christian Ramirez.
That's not good enough if the club wants to improve in the second half of the season.
"I think we had a good win on Wednesday and kind of spoke about how we want the second half of the season to be a turn around," Shuttleworth said. "I don't think there's one guy in that locker room that will tell you this is acceptable."