It's been a long layoff, but the Houston Dynamo finally return to league play tomorrow. Two and a half weeks after holding on to a 1-1 draw in Columbus, the Dynamo travel north of the border to get their first look at the frontrunners of the Eastern Conference, the Montreal Impact.
Perhaps the surprise of the conference, the Impact currently sit three places (and four points) ahead of the Dynamo in the table. Riding an unbeaten streak at home and the hot foot of Marco Di Vaio, they started hot and haven't done much cooling off lately - and I don't think their loss at Columbus last Saturday will change that much.
The Dynamo are at the end of a stretch of six of nine away, and it's safe to say that whatever the result here, the stretch wasn't as excruciating as many supporters feared it would be. One point from three at home isn't what Dynamo supporters are used to, but neither is nine points from five away. Whatever happens Wednesday, the Dynamo will emerge from a tough stretch with at least half the points possible - a far cry from the side's usual road woes.
In fact, their recent form is enough to give many Dynamo supporters hope that a result will be snatched from the peak of the Royal Mountain. While this is indeed a possibility, it won't be easy. As I mentioned above, they have yet to lose this month, and between Di Vaio, Patrice Bernier and Justin Mapp (among others), they have plenty of offensive weapons.
In his answers to Dynamo Theory's questions, Montreal blogger Giovanni Sardo mentioned that Di Vaio can be stopped by controlling the midfield, and that Columbus provided a good blueprint on how to do it. I didn't get a chance to watch this match live, but having seen the highlights (and having watched a number of other matches), I'm inclined to agree with his premise.
Di Vaio is like most strikers - he thrives mostly off of service from his midfield. He'll play the backline as close as he can without going offside, and then use a burst of speed to create his chances. And with service from Bernier, Mapp and the rest of that midfield, he's gotten plenty of chances. You're not going to stop Di Vaio - not that easily. He's a good striker, and good strikers will create their chances. What a side has to be able to do is limit those chances, which is something the Dynamo might be able to do.
It won't be an easy task - especially with Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia still away on national team duty, but we've talked up the Dynamo's depth all season, and for the most part, they've lived up to the hype. For once, the injury sheet looks rather bare, with only Calen Carr and Anthony Arena listed. Giles Barnes, Andrew Driver, Adam Moffat, Ricardo Clark - the bulk of the Dynamo midfield should be available Wednesday night, and even without Davis and Boniek, it's a midfield that supporters have faith in. Not saying that it's certain that they'll be able to shut down the Montreal midfield, but they have as good of a shot as anyone of doing so.
The backline should be there - Corey Ashe, Bobby Boswell, Jermaine Taylor and Kofi Sarkodie are all available, easing one of the questions Dynamo supporters have had recently. Omar Cummings is back and training, so it shouldn't be too long before he's able to prove that he was worth the move that the front office made to get him. Sure, we're missing two crucial pieces at the moment, but everything else is coming back together, and that can only be a good thing.
The time off has allowed the Dynamo to get healthy and rested. Tomorrow night, we'll be able to see whether or not they'll be able to turn that into a result in Montreal. It's a clash of the titans, and while it may not carry the weight of a match against, say, Kansas City, it should be a tough, close match. To use a phrase our Quebecois friends will appreciate (and one readers probably remember), it will be a battle à l'outrance - two sides fighting for points and glory. Here's hoping that the Dynamo can give a good account of themselves in that battle.