Prematurely Pressing the Panic Button: The Heat Is On

USA TODAY Sports

Summer has arrived, and the MLS playoff race is heating up along with the temperatures. Given the Dynamo's recent form, is it time for supporters to push the panic button? Read on to find out, and to hear a bit of the reasoning why.

Last Friday marked the official start of summer, to those who follow the calendar. To those who follow the weather, you realize that summer has been here for a while now. The last few weeks have seen rising temperatures, nigh unbearable humidity, and no relief from either, save at the bottom of a pool (or inside with air conditioning, watching the Confederations Cup).

The weather isn't the only thing heating up, though. About six weeks ago, I wrote a post about the way the conferences seemed to be shaping up, and I thought it might hold true for a while longer. Turns out it didn't - for various reasons, none of which are the main purpose of this post. Fortunes change throughout the season, and some clubs have found theirs either suddenly riding high or swept down to the depths.

(Note: This is from the table that I keep, so any mistakes are because I didn't copy something right. In the off chance that something is wrong, the "official" table can be found here.)


Club: Points: GP: PPG: W: L: D: GF: GA: GD: HG: HGD: AG: AGD:
1 Portland Timbers 30 17 1.76 7 1 9 28 16 12 14 9 14 3
2 Real Salt Lake 30 17 1.76 9 5 3 26 16 10 15 9 11 1
3 FC Dallas 29 16 1.81 8 3 5 25 20 5 15 9 10 -4
4 Montreal Impact 29 14 2.07 9 3 2 24 17 7 16 9 8 -2
5 Philadelphia Union 25 16 1.56 7 5 4 25 24 1 13 3 12 -2
6 New York Red Bulls 25 17 1.47 7 6 4 23 22 1 12 4 11 -3
7 LA Galaxy 24 16 1.50 7 6 3 23 18 5 12 10 11 -5
8 Sporting Kansas City 23 16 1.44 6 5 5 20 15 5 11 4 9 1
9 Houston Dynamo 23 16 1.44 6 5 5 19 16 3 9 3 10 0
10 Vancouver Whitecaps 22 15 1.47 6 5 4 25 24 1 18 7 7 -6
11 Seattle Sounders 21 14 1.50 6 5 3 19 17 2 12 6 7 -4
12 Columbus Crew 20 16 1.25 5 6 5 19 18 1 9 1 10 0
13 New England Revolution 20 15 1.33 5 5 5 18 13 5 11 7 7 -2
14 Colorado Rapids 20 17 1.18 5 7 5 17 19 -2 10 1 7 -3
15 Chicago Fire 18 15 1.20 5 7 3 15 21 -6 11 1 4 -7
16 San Jose Earthquakes 18 17 1.06 4 7 6 15 25 -10 10 1 5 -11
17 Toronto FC 12 15 0.80 2 7 6 14 20 -6 9 -1 5 -5
18 Chivas USA 11 15 0.73 3 10 2 14 30 -16 8 -7 6 -9
19 D.C. United 9 16 0.56 2 11 3 8 26 -18 7 -9 1 -9

The Dynamo find themselves being swept down. Which their current standing in the Eastern Conference would get them into the playoffs, they've managed just three points in the six weeks since I last wrote one of these posts. Their last victory was the 4-0 thrashing of DC United on 8 May. Since then, they've drawn three and lost three - and scored only two goals.

Why is this happening, you may ask? I can see many reasons, honestly. Dynamo supporters came into this season touting the organization's depth, and that's been tested to the utmost in recent weeks. Bobby Boswell missed matches due to suspensions. Oscar Boniek Garcia, Brad Davis and Jermaine Taylor missed matches because of World Cup qualifying. And to make a bad situation worse, the injury bug suddenly hit everyone from Corey Ashe to Giles Barnes and beyond.

They haven't been able to send out a consistent XI, and when that happens, a dearth of results can be expected. But still, for a side that was supposed to be so deep, perhaps better results were anticipated. There were matches in this stretch that were winnable, even with the players the Dynamo had available. For whatever reason, that didn't happen. Like it or not, the results of the past are in the past. They may or may not come back to haunt the Dynamo come the end of the season, but there's not much we can do about that.

It's time to look forward. As the table shows, fifteen of the teams in the league chasing Portland are within twelve points of them - the jumble at the middle has turned into more of a jumble at the top. I wrote six weeks ago that it was up to the Dynamo to keep pace - they haven't done so. Luckily for them, the teams currently atop the table have been streaking from the middle, not the top.

Six weeks ago, the Dynamo were four points off the league leaders (and one off the conference leaders). Five matches later, those gaps are only seven and six, respectively. The Dynamo may have dropped twelve out of a possible fifteen points in that span, but it hasn't left them too far in the dust. A climb back up the table is still completely possible. After all, they're still not quite halfway through the season.

If they're going to do this, however, things will have to be fixed. The Dynamo have been suffering from something I've come to call "Windows Maze Syndrome." For those of you sheltered enough to not get what I mean, it refers to the maze screensaver that was popular in older versions of the Windows OS. The AI running through the maze would follow a set program, which means that there were many times when a viewer watching would see the finish line, and then see the AI deliberately turn away from it, running through its programmed itinerary.

That's what it's been like watching the Dynamo the last few weeks - especially last week against Montreal and Toronto. The Dynamo only took one point from the two matches, but it wasn't because they played particularly badly. In both matches (especially the Toronto one), the Dynamo created a lot of chances. The trouble for them was in the finishing, with Barnes' skied penalty against Montreal and Will Bruin's wide open header over the bar against Toronto providing some of the most blatant examples.

The two share the team lead in goals scored with four, but neither has had much luck lately. The last match in which either scored was the rout in DC, where Bruin had two goals and two assists and Barnes had a goal before leaving with an injury just 37 minutes in. Both registered an assist on the goal scored in Kansas City on 26 May, but that's their only contribution to the scoresheet in seven weeks.

But the scoring drought isn't just on those two. Davis, Warren Creavalle and Andrew Driver all have three goals on the season. Kofi Sarkodie has notched four assists. The Dynamo have six players who have scored this year - and so far, only Ricardo Clark has not scored multiple times. Eleven players have assisted on Dynamo goals, and six players have multiple assists. The Dynamo can score, and they can create opportunities. The statistics show that. They're just in a slump at the moment.

You have to hope that slump ends soon, though. Maybe the return of Omar Cummings to health means that Bruin has a true partner at striker. Bruin has never played particularly well as a long striker, and for all the networks portray our current XI as a 4-4-2, it's really not. Barnes has played as more of a trequartista - a fifth midfielder instead of a second striker. This is not to say he's played it badly - quite the opposite, as he's had some spectacular stretches of play in the role - but it still leaves Bruin isolated.

With Davis out because of an apparent strained left hamstring, the midfield is a little more predictable, even if Cummings returns. With Bruin and Cummings up front, the Dynamo will probably utilize a midfield consisting of Boniek, Driver, Clark and Barnes, which is still one I'd take over most in this league, to be honest. The back line is finally back at full strength (save for the injured Anthony Arena), and so all the signs point to a good opportunity to end this slump.

And while the season may not even be half over yet, I'd rather not see the Dynamo slip below fifth place in the East. Keeping this spot, however, means results. Draws will do the trick for a while, but at some point soon, they need to pick up a win or two. Both Columbus and New England could draw even with us in points this weekend, and Chicago are streaking and not that far behind.

The Dynamo sit at 23 points. Their next five matches - all against Eastern Conference clubs in the hunt - could be the stretch that makes or breaks this season: at New York (25 points), versus Philadelphia (25), at New England (20), versus Chicago (18) and versus Columbus (20). At this point in the season, it's really too early to scoreboard watch, so the Dynamo need to get points and not worry if teams ahead of them are doing so, too.

With this five match stretch, I think that to keep themselves in the hunt, they need at least half the points - either seven or eight. More than that would be welcome, though I think that anything less might be cause for concern, especially with the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League coming up soon.

It's not a particularly grueling stretch time-wise - five matches in thirty-five days - but it coincides with the start of summer. The weather has already gotten hot. Everybody can feel it, and we know that the nights will be warm at BBVA Compass Stadium (and elsewhere). Should supporters be pressing the panic button over their recent form? Not really. There's still a lot of season to go - but it is time for the Dynamo to follow the weather's lead and get hot.

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