The Dynamo travel to the nation's capital to face streaking DC United who are unbeaten in six matches, going back to a March 18th loss to the Galaxy. United took apart the New York Red Bulls last weekend 4-1 so one expects they'll be full of confidence ahead of this early season Eastern Conference clash.
United's defense will be looking to keep Will Bruin under control, something they failed to do last season when the young striker posted his first career MLS hat trick against them. While Bruin has been playing excellent the last couple weeks, this improved United side looks to be much more solid defensively.
With the exception of their 3-1 loss to the Galaxy, United have not allowed more than one goal in a match this season, so finding a way to break down their stingy back line will be key to Houston's success. A key to that will be the health of Brad Davis and Corey Ashe.
Both players were listed as doubtful on Tuesday's injury report, but as the week has progressed, it's become more and more likely that the duo could be ready to play on Saturday. Having at least one of them back would of course be nice since the Dynamo are a bit thin on left midfield options with Colin Clark suspended for one more match. Davis was cleared and resumed full training on Thursday with the club for the first time since his calf injury. Despite that, Davis (and Ashe as well) will remain a game time decision.
Geoff Cameron did not train Thursday after suffering from a headache, but he's expected to be ready to go this weekend.
Despite the injury concerns, this will be a good early season test for the Dynamo against a team they will likely spend the summer battling with for playoff positioning. Pulling some points from this match would be a bonus, but a loss wouldn't be the end of the world.
Predicted Lineup: Hall; Hainault, Cameron, Boswell, Ashe/Taylor; Moffat, Watson, Davis/Ashe/Kandji, Camargo; Bruin, Ching.
Predicted Score: 1-1
Martek and I exchanged questions about this weekend's match with Martin Shatzer, the managing editor of Black and Red United. Check out what we both had to say:
B&RU: Houston is tied for third in the league with only five goals allowed this season. Is this sustainable?
DT: Logic tells you it's not sustainable as every team has a bad game or two, but assuming the defense is healthy and able to play together most of the season, I think there's a real possibility they could keep up that defensive pace. Just how much Geoff Cameron is gone during WC qualifiers could effect this, but there's a great deal of depth back there for Kinnear to work with so there's not reason to believe the Dynamo will suddenly become a leaky faucet in defense.
B&RU: Give us an update on Brad Davis. Will he be fit to play? If not, what changes for the Dynamo?
DT: Davis is listed as doubtful and there's no rush to bring him back before he's ready. They've been fine without him but obviously the sooner he's back on the left wing the better. Corey Ashe has moved up in to the midfield from his typical left back spot with Jermaine Taylor covering and that's been a solid combo. The trouble this weekend comes from the fact that Ashe is having hamstring troubles and could be out as well. If that's the case, it likely means a young and untested player on the left side for the Dynamo and even more pressure on Camargo, Watson and the forwards to create offense. Not the end of the world, but a bit problematic. If Colin Clark weren't suspended, he could cover the left since it's his natural position, but this is the final game of his three match ban.
B&RU: How has the Brian Ching and Will Bruin partnership been working so far? They killed us last year. What other attackers should United fans be worried about?
DT: Ching and Bruin got off to a slow start, but after the three week break they've been on fire, combining for three goals and two assist in the last two matches. Their link-up play is better than it's ever been, a clear sign they are comfortable playing together and getting used to how the other works. Having Luiz Camargo backs helps this a great deal, but there's no doubt the strike duo of the Dancing Bear and Captain Kamehameha are going to have a big season. DC also has to worry about late match changes with the likes of Calen Carr and Mac Kandji, nothing like dealing with a physical forward duo for 70 minutes only to find yourself getting run at by two speedsters.
DT: It's not been hard to notice that Ben Olsen has left his designated player Branko Boskovic (sp?) on the bench far more than he has played him this season. Is it too early to call that signing a bust for you guys? And if not, what is the story there?
B&RU: No, unfortunately its probably not too early to label Boskovic a bust. And its such a shame because he had so much potential to be better. Just when he was poised to break out last year, he suffered an injury at the hands of the New England Revolution in a match that we now like to call Brankostock, and he hasn't been the same since. Boskovic has still been working his way back to full health, but has found that there aren't any available spots in the starting lineup anymore. With Maicon Santos and Chris Pontius playing so well at forward, Dwayne De Rosario has dropped back into the central attacking midfield spot that Boskovic had been slated to occupy. Well he's not beating out DeRo anytime soon. And so it seems entirely likely at this point that Boskovic will finish his MLS career when his contract ends this summer with 0 goals and 0 assists in three seasons.
DT: Give us an update on what you have seen from Danny Cruz this season. Here in Houston, we all got to know, love, and get frequently frustrated with Cruz. His work rate and desire to take defenders on was impressive, but he so often would then lose the ball, cross to no one and get an attack of the stupids. What have been your impressions of Danny so far?
B&RU: Cruz's personality has allowed him to quickly become a fan favorite, which I think is something you're probably pretty familiar with. We've seen him run sometimes aimlessly at defenders and lose the ball, but this year while wearing black, he always seems to win it right back immediately. Olsen's version of the 4-4-2 requires the outside midfielders to have a high energy level and get back to pinch in defensively at a moment's notice, so Cruz's work ethic has really been a perfect fit so far. With Rookie of the Year candidate Nick DeLeon settled in permanently now on the left, Cruz remains ahead of Andy Najar on the D.C. United depth chart at right midfield. At least for the time being.
DT: Similar to Boskovic, the goalkeeper situation seems to be unsettled. After he came back from Olympic qualifying, Bill Hamid lost his starting spot and has yet to reclaim it even though by all accounts the "next big US Soccer goalkeeper" is healthy and fit. What is happening in goal up there right now? How settled is that situation?
B&RU: Just like Najar, Hamid didn't lose his starting spot due to any fault of his own. He lost his starting spot because someone stepped in and stepped up when he was away. The 6'-5" Joe Willis has taken a hold of the starting goalkeeper job, and hasn't lost in six straight matches. Olsen likes to pick a lineup and stick with it, so as long as Willis continues to have success, Hamid will continue to sit on the bench. There's no doubt though that Hamid's ceiling is still much higher, and we expect him to claim the job again eventually.