Back to Earth. That's really the only way to describe it. After phenomenal performances in two straight matches at home, the Houston Dynamo reverted back to their woeful road form from last month. Defensive lapses, magnified by the weather and a slick FieldTurf surface, were exploited by a Portland Timbers side that overcame two first-half injuries to notch their first win of the season.
While we can go on and on about the Dynamo's road woes (and we have, in other places), it's important to file this performance away for the moment, as there's another match to prepare for. Sunday afternoon, the Dynamo welcome the Chicago Fire into BBVA Compass Stadium, hoping to right their ship - and notch a significant record while doing so.
Much has been made about the Dynamo's spectacular home form - especially in contrast to the side's lack of it on the road - and that form will be tested against a Fire side that is looking to continue improving after picking up a 3-1 win against New York last week. While Chicago have looked lost at times, Sunday's result was a reminder that this is still a talented team - and even if their first month was not what people expected from a playoff side a year ago, they still believe they can vault themselves back into contention.
To do so, however, they'll have to win on the road against one of the best home sides in the league. Houston hasn't lost a competitive match at home since 18 June 2011 - and they've never lost a meaningful match at BBVA Compass, a fact acknowledged last week, when they tied the league record of 34 straight unbeaten matches at home, including playoffs and CONCACAF Champions League play. The regular season streak sits at 28, and a favorable result this Sunday will tie that mark.
It won't be easy, however. Yes, the Fire have managed only four points in five matches, but Sunday's win could possibly provide them with some much needed momentum. Also, their other point came when they fought Sporting Kansas City to a scoreless draw in Kansas City - showing that while they have struggled, the ability to come up big on the road is there.
Another obstacle the Dynamo face are injuries. Omar Cummings has dressed for the past few matches, yet has only a few substitute appearances to show for it - so it's difficult to tell whether or not he's back to full form. Also questionable are Will Bruin and Oscar Boniek Garcia, both of whom sat out Saturday's loss. Bruin returned to training Wednesday, but while both players would love to go against the Fire, team officials are being cautious with both. They would be missed dearly, but the front office is clearly trying to get them well for the long haul, not just a single match - doing this to Bruin a few weeks ago resulted in this re-aggravation of an injury he suffered against Dallas.
Though the Dynamo had many problems last Saturday, they were not helped with the absence of two of their better players - and this would certainly be the case should either or both miss Sunday's match. Substitutes like Andrew Driver and Cam Weaver can perform well in their place, but there's no doubt that having Bruin and Boniek on the pitch gives the Dynamo the best chance of winning.
Without them - granted, part of this was due to the weather, and much of it to a splendid performance by their Timbers counterparts - the Dynamo didn't seem to have much of the ball. Even worse, they looked unable to create many chances. One would hope that much of that was due to the weather conditions, but I have little doubt that the injuries did not help at all. That being said, this is a side that came back to defeat Vancouver without the services of Boniek Garcia, Brad Davis and Jermaine Taylor, so it has been shown that the Dynamo bench can effectively pick up the slack - and it's hoped that they could do so again if the need arises.
I'll be honest, I have very little idea of what to expect with this side. The disparity between their home and road form is enough to make one wonder if perhaps one will carry over to the other (in that case, please, let the home form carry over to the road and not the other way around). BBVA Compass is a fortress, and one that the Dynamo are adept at defending, but there's no such thing as a given three points.
I went on record last week that the nature of the Portland match made me uneasy. I don't have quite the same feelings about this one, but I will caution anyone trying to overlook Chicago because of their performance. Complacency will beat a side in less time than it takes to figure out which Dynamo player is about to take a corner. The men in orange aren't going to beat anyone if they play like they did in the second half Saturday night - I don't care where they play, it's not going to happen. Hopefully, the Dynamo come out driven and ready to defend their fortress and remind the league that they're a lot better than they played last week. If they can do that, they'll be well on their way to history. If they can't, that history may not be so kind to them.