Sorry for the long hiatus guys, but I'm back with you. It's been tough the past few weeks to watch the Dynamo play (okay, last Saturday, not so much, I admit) and not be able to focus on everything as well as I'd like to, but that's behind me. And so, for that matter, is the fiasco last weekend. Clear?
Good, because there's a lot of work for the Dynamo still to do, and they'll start it off Sunday afternoon at 2 pm against the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park. The Dynamo have snatched four out of a possible six points from Chicago this season, though both previous matches have been in Houston. This will be the only regular season fixture played between the two sides in Chicago, which (unlike many road venues) is a place the Houston Dynamo have had some luck in previous years - they drew a match and lost one in the regular season, yes, but their memorable 2-1 Halloween victory in the knockout match of the playoffs last year was a nice consolation.
With three league matches in the next eight days, it's imperative that the Dynamo get off to a good start. They dodged a bullet when Brad Davis wasn't called up to the U.S. National Team for the Costa Rica and Mexico qualifiers, but they'll lose both Boniek Garcia and Jermaine Taylor after this match, so it might be a good time to make their presence count - especially Boniek. He hasn't been as consistently spectacular as he was during the stretch run last season, but when he's been on, he's been very good.
Also important is the fact that the Dynamo injury report is becoming less cluttered as time goes by. Backup keeper Tyler Deric is the only player ruled out (right thumb fracture), and Omar Cummings (left knee MCL sprain) and Ricardo Clark (illness) are both listed as questionable. Noticeably absent, for the first time this season, is Calen Carr. Everything I'd heard before today stated that the target was to have him back for the Columbus match midweek, but once more, Carr is ahead of schedule - and could provide a much needed spark off the bench. Eyes will also be on Boniek and Andrew Driver, who would both be suspended for accumulation with one more yellow card, and Boniek's fellow Honduran Alex Lopez, who made his MLS debut as a substitute last week.
The Fire are completely healthy and streaking. They've picked up nine of twelve points from their last four matches in order to stay in what's become a logjam in the Eastern Conference. All the key players from the late July draw will be there: Mike Magee, Chris Rolfe, Daniel Paladini, Jeff Larentowicz and the rest of them - including keeper Sean Johnson this time. Also added to the squad since the last meeting is their new Designated Player, Juan Luis Anangono, who was signed a few days before the July meeting, though he did not arrive in time to suit up for the Fire in Houston.
Several Houston players, including Driver and Will Bruin, have gone on record stating that this match is huge. They're right. Though last week's debacle was paired with several unfavorable results to clubs ahead of the Dynamo, the men in Orange slipped back into sixth place once more, and sit just two points ahead of the seventh placed Fire. You can do the math from that, I don't have to tell you what a loss means, though Toronto's salvaging a draw against New England eases some of the pressure there. A draw might not be the end of the world, but it would certainly put even more emphasis on the last two matches of this eight day swing.
A win, however, allows the Dynamo to keep pace (at the least). A win keeps hopes alive. A win gets us closer to a chance to do what Dynamo fans love to do: that exhortation to "dream, scream, believe" that has carried us to the cusp of glory two years straight. A win Sunday would come in the birthplace of the improbable "Noodle Time," which defied all attempts at understanding, comprehending, and deciphering - and if the Dynamo start another run here, I might have to start believing in that guy, whoever he was.
A win, however, is not guaranteed. Nothing is written, nothing is certain, and nothing is settled without a battle. Sunday afternoon, the Dynamo will get that battle. The supporters are clamoring for a positive response to last week - will they get one? The critics are starting their doubt-filled refrains of scorn - will they be silenced? These answers - and several more - will come only after ninety minutes of soccer at Toyota Park. With so much possibly in the balance, this is definitely going to be a match worth watching.