Home again. It's been a while since the Houston Dynamo have hosted a match at BBVA Compass Stadium - the last league match here was on May 18th. That, as you probably remember, was the lackluster 2-0 loss to New England that left a bad taste in most of our mouths - a taste that Dynamo supporters would love to erase.
The Dynamo will get the chance to put that loss (as well as Wednesday's 2-0 defeat in Montreal) behind them Saturday night when they face off with Toronto FC for the second time this season - in a match that will also serve as a tribute to the four firefighters who fell in the line of duty on May 31st. The last time the two sides met was on a snowy/rainy/cold afternoon in Toronto, and Warren Creavalle's header deep in stoppage time salvaged a draw and gave the Dynamo their first road point of the season.
It also featured a curious red card, with Jermaine Taylor being sent off for apparently denying Robert Earnshaw a chance on goal - around midfield. Add injuries to Adam Moffat and Brad Davis, and considering how Toronto controlled most of that match, it's hard to see how the Dynamo managed to escape with a draw.
That, however, has been the MO of TFC for most of the season - in answer to a question I posed to him, Waking the Red blogger Duncan Fletcher mentioned that since playing the Dynamo last, Toronto have conceded late goals (after the 80th minute) five times, with four of those occasions costing the Reds points.
Doing this once or twice might be chalked up to bad luck, though by this point, as Fletcher suggests, it's probably gone to their heads. This could be played as an advantage by the Dynamo - especially here in Houston - but it shouldn't be the cornerstone of any strategy.
All in all, the Dynamo didn't look particularly bad Wednesday night - that is, until you got to their finishing, which was (to sum it up) atrocious. And bad finishing means that any hope of points depends on your playing error-free, which the Dynamo did not do. Two major errors were jumped on by Montreal, and both resulted in goals - exactly the type of performance you'd expect to see from a side that is sitting atop the Eastern Conference.
Still, Wednesday's match was the first league match in about half a month, and there were many things that were good to see. Most promising, at least to me, was the fact that with a few exceptions (Calen Car and Anthony Arena), the Dynamo roster is actually healthy. The backline was at full strength for the first time in at least a month, and the midfield depth was sufficient enough to create enough chances for the Dynamo to keep themselves in the match. The midfield will be back at full strength this weekend as Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia return from national team duty (with Boniek's injury, it's unclear how much time he'll see - though the fact that he was substituted on against the USMNT gives me a little bit of hope that he's healthier than we feared).
Up front, Omar Cummings saw significant action, meaning that the Dynamo may finally be able to put a true second striker up front with Will Bruin. This is no knock on Giles Barnes, who has filled in quite well. Apparently, it's become okay to knock him after he missed from the penalty spot, which is something I don't get. Sure, it was a bad miss, but everybody has bad misses from time to time. If you're going to suddenly turn on someone for missing a penalty, then I get the feeling you're going to run out of players you "like" real quickly.
But that's beside the point. Whether you like how he's played or not, the statistics show that Barnes has played quite well in a role that is not one he usually plays. I think he'll switch back to a more CAM-like role when Cummings returns to the starting XI - but I also don't believe that'll happen for another match or two, to allow Cummings time to return to full strength.
The tables would tell you that TFC is an easy club to beat, and I know many people believe that's so. However, I will give out my standard caution about "no easy three points," and remind everyone that this series has a history of draws in recent years. Nothing is for certain, and only Saturday night's match will tell us how the points will be distributed.