Before Saturday's practice, Tim Cahill had a premonition about New York Red Bulls teammate Fabian Espindola.
"I told Fabian yesterday that he was going to score," Cahill said of the Red Bulls forward, who got his first goal since April 20 in a 2-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo on Sunday.
"It didn't matter how long he had been without a goal," Cahill said. "He's been playing well. When our front line plays well, it takes the pressure off the midfield. I'm so happy for him. I've said time and time again that this team can't worry about stats. We have to worry about getting wins."
Espindola broke a scoreless tie in the 60th minute off a feed from Eric Alexander. Jonny Steele put the game away with two minutes left in regulation, giving the Red Bulls (8-6-4) their first win since defeating Los Angeles on May 19. They were 0-2-1 during that span, which included a three-week hiatus.
"It was huge for us," said first-year coach Mike Petke. "I think today's game was vital. I won't say the 'must-win' thing, but it was a very vital game. If we dominated like the way we did, that's a positive step to get back to the mentality we had before the break."
The Red Bulls moved within one point of first-place Montreal in the Eastern Conference.
Houston (6-6-5) remained winless in its last seven matches, going 0-4-3.
"We're just making too many mistakes and those mistakes punish you," Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear said. "Overall, our play has been good, but sometimes it comes down to what you're doing in both boxes. You go through things like this in the MLS, but just because you've done it before doesn't mean I'm not worried and upset."
Espindola, who had two goals in the season opener, got behind the defense after Alexander fed him with a perfect lead. He made a solid 20-yard run with the ball, then touched a left-footed shot past goalkeeper Tally Hall for Espindola's fourth of the season.
Steele then put the game away in the 88th minute. He took a return pass from Thierry Henry and buried it hard into the upper right corner of the goal. It was Steele's second goal of the season.
"We were playing very hard and we got some good chances," Steele said. "We had our chances in the second half and we capitalized. If you keep a clean sheet, then you have a good chance to win."
Steele took a kick to the face from Kofi Sarkodie in first-half stoppage time and received a cut to the chin that required five stitches.
"But nothing was going to keep me off the field today," Steele said.
Petke credited the play of his two goal scorers.
"If you would have told me before the season that Fabian and Jonny would be front-line starters for us at this point, I would have said, 'Probably not,'" Petke said. "The two of them work so hard. They epitomize what hard work means. They got rewards for their hard and work and it was good for them."
Luis Robles made three saves for his fifth shutout of the season.
"It was a real important win for us," Cahill said. "We needed to bring back some stability. We hadn't won in a while. But I felt confident from the start. I knew we had the upper hand. I didn't feel like they could hurt us as long as we played with discipline."
The Dynamo failed to score a goal for their third straight game.
"It's been a difficult time for us and things have been going against us," Giles Barnes said. "It's a game of inches. ... Once we get one, then things will open up for us."