Well, here we go. This is what everyone has been hyping up for the last two weeks, for better or worse. This Saturday night, 17 August, the Houston Dynamo host the Seattle Sounders at BBVA Compass Stadium - the first time that the Cascadia club has made the trek to our new stadium. Of course, that's not why this fixture has been so endlessly hyped, but more on that later.
The Dynamo are coming off of a good (but not great) performance last Saturday against Real Salt Lake, in which one mistake in the box (whatever you many think of the call itself) cost the Dynamo points. Adam Moffat's first half tackle of Olmes Garcia earned RSL a (possibly dubious) penalty kick. Alvaro Saborio took it, scored, and gave Salt Lake a 1-0 lead that would end up as the final score.
That's in the past, however. As much as I hate having a referee being forced to leave his mark on the match, it happened. The true test of a club comes in how they respond to this kind of a match, and they'll get a chance to do so Saturday night, when the eyes of an entire league are fixed on the orange and white facade of BBVA Compass Stadium. Obviously, those eyes will be watching the oldest player in the league, Seattle keeper Marcus Hanhemann, and how he handles the Houston humidity.
Oh, who are we kidding? Since Seattle signed national team standout Clint Dempsey (born and raised in nearby Nacogdoches) on 3 August, most of the league has talked of little else. While a player of Dempsey's caliber certainly deserves much of the hype he's given, the fact remains that he is but one man on the roster of a Seattle club that currently sits on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture.
Am I saying that Dempsey can't conceivably carry the Sounders into the playoffs? Far from it. He's a very good player, and was brought in to because there's that chance that he can do just what I have said. But he is just a piece in Seattle's puzzle, a cog in a machine that includes Eddie Johnson, Brad Evans, DeAndre Yedlin, and others. He may be the biggest cog, at this point, but he is simply one of many.
Thankfully, not all of their cogs will be in play. Evans and Johnson both saw duty away for the national team in the 4-3 victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo on 14 August. Both are scheduled to rejoin the club in Houston, though Eddie Johnson will be ineligible to play due to yellow card accumulation - which probably paves the way for Dempsey's first start since resigning with the league - and there's no telling how trans-Atlantic flights and 87 minutes in Sarajevo will affect the play of Evans.
Whether or not Dempsey starts, Seattle will be facing a Houston Dynamo side that are coming off the aforementioned disappointing result last week. Andrew Driver has returned to training, and Boniek Garcia will theoretically be rested and available. New signing Alex Lopez has arrived and will practice with the Dynamo for the first time on Friday. I highly doubt he'll see any time against Seattle, but there have been rumors that he'll be dressed for Saturday's match.
But again, these things only matter to Dynamo fans. The majority of the country probably could not care less about some Honduran midfielders or a Scotsman by choice. This game is hyped for Clint Dempsey, and pretty much Dempsey alone. Even the Dynamo ticket office is pumping up "Dempsey vs Davis," trying to play off up what is already a sold out match. And there's nothing wrong with that - if it gets people out to see BBVA Compass Stadium, I'm all for it.
But in the midst of all the hype, don't forget that this script has not yet been written. This is BBVA Compass Stadium. It's Houston in mid-August, hardly one of the country's more appealing climates. It's going to be hot. It's going to be humid. It's going to be a battle à l'outrance, a no holds barred drain on players and fans alike. And at the end of it all - after ninety minutes have been played - we'll see how the script turns out. Because you can have all the hype in the world, but that all counts for naught once the heat's turned up.
Saturday night, that heat gets turned up. At the end of it all, somebody's going to be running out of the kitchen - and only time will tell who that is.