This is the time of year that gets a bit tricky. Yes, the Houston Dynamo are known for late season runs in Major League Soccer. This year we hope is no different. Looking ahead though, the Dynamo have a tough task in balancing two competitions, playoff positioning, along with overcoming challenges with depth that hindered them earlier in the season.
This weekend, the Dynamo will host the Seattle Sounders and the Clint Dempsey circus. Is Clint's return huge for MLS and all that stuff? Sure. But in all honesty, he's a minor detail in this weekend's clash. This weekend's game is all about positioning - for both clubs. Both Houston and Seattle are facing similar circumstances and both clubs will be desperate for points at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Houston (9-7-6, 33 points) are currently holding on to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Although they have two games in hand on the top three clubs, they're even at 22 matches played with the team directly above (Montreal Impact) and below them (Chicago Fire).
Seattle (10-7-4, 34 points) are in a bit of a tougher situation in the Western Conference. The Sounders are currently in sixth place, but the second through eighth spots in the West are separated by a mere six points. Pretty much every team in the conference is a playoff contender aside from Chivas USA.
Each upcoming match slowly becomes a must win or at least a game where a point is required, and this game is no different. For Houston, this match kicks off an extremely rough scheduling patch in which the club will be asked to balance a lot and could determine their fate in the playoff race.
Tough Road Ahead
The upcoming stretch for Houston is extremely crowded. In 21 days, the Dynamo will play in 7 matches (average of 3 per week).
Houston is heading down a rough road and it's an understatement that the team's depth and character will be tested. Not only will the Dynamo play an average of 3 games a week in the upcoming stretch, they'll also be road warriors.
Of the next seven matches, four are on the road and one of those is over 2500 miles to Trinidad and Tobago for a CONCACAF Champions League match.
We can all recall Houston getting off to a strong start to the season which suddenly came to end after a 4-0 victory over D.C. United in early May. Immediately after, the Dynamo went on to win only one game in their next nine games. During that stretch, Houston managed to score only two goals in seven league games.
Injuries and national team call ups all could be attributed to adding fuel to the fire, but this Houston club was built with depth in mind. The midfield is stacked heavily and Dominic Kinnear has continued that trend with the additional of Honduran midfielder (and designated player) Alexander Lopez.
The start of July offered new hope. The Dynamo finished the month unbeaten in four matches, collecting wins in three of the games. August started out well with a win over Columbus, but the Dynamo sputtered to a halt last week in their 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake.
Sure, RSL is the MLS superlider right now - holding on to the top spot in league play and they've found themselves playing for the U.S. Open Cup championship.
But the RSL team that welcomed the Dynamo to Rio Tinto last week was tired and bruised, going winless in their three league matches prior to the game against Houston. Even so, the Dynamo couldn't find their touch - in the midfield with passing or in the final third. The match was so lacking in scoring opportunities that Giles Barnes was the only Dynamo starter that was credited with a shot on goal. Jason Johnson, who's turning into a promising attacking option for Houston, played 25 minutes and had the other two shots on goal for Houston.
Fans are hoping the RSL loss was a simple bump in the road and the team that shows up for the Dempsey circus will be the team that was on a five game unbeaten streak.
In order to survive the 21 days ahead, the Dynamo will have to prove their challenges with their varying lineups that seemed to haunt them a couple months ago are gone.
Lopez Paperwork Finalized - Will Practice Friday
Lopez finalized all his paperwork on Thursday and will practice with the Dynamo on Friday for the first time. While technically he'll be available for selection against Seattle, his debut will likely be in Trinidad and Tobago against W Connection on August 20.
We all hope injuries don't come into play, but with World Cup qualifiers approaching in September and October, the Dynamo will have some challenges there. Both Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia would likely see time with their respective countries, and one would have to imagine a healthy Jermaine Taylor would be called by Jamaica.
Offensive Options Coming
On the other end, there are a couple of reinforcements aside than Lopez that could add some punch to the Dynamo offense. Calen Carr, who's been out since last year's MLS Cup, is practicing again and saw himself listed as ‘questionable' on last week's injury report. Carr is expected to be available soon for selection and could add a late boost to the club's forward position. Additionally, Brian Ownby is finishing up an extremely successful season with USL PRO club Richmond Kickers. Ownby and the Kickers were crowned regular season champions on Wednesday night and will have home field advantage heading into the USL PRO playoffs. Once the playoffs are complete, Ownby is expected back in orange.
There are both challenges and positives ahead for Houston. This club and their character will be tested. The Dynamo have been known for being a team that pulls out late, gritty, get the job done results when they need it most. This year is no different and this test is no different.