Just as a bit of a warning, this will be a bit different than most Panic Button posts you seen from me. I don't normally change the format around, but the situation calls for it. The Houston Dynamo find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in - not something they're used to, having made the postseason six of their seven years in the league.
On the 18th of August, the Dynamo had to have been feeling good. They were at the start of a crucial stretch, and they had beaten a behemoth - that 3-1 victory over Seattle is the only time the Sounders have dropped points since mid-July (7-1-0 in that span). And yet the stretch proved a nightmare. Seven matches in twenty-three days - five league matches and two CONCACAF Champions League ones - and the Dynamo went just 2-3-2 in them (1-3-1 in MLS, 1-0-1 in CCL), being outscored 14-7 (13-5 in the five league matches). By all accounts, they should be out of the playoff race, looking to retool for next year's campaign.
Yet they aren't. I can't explain it, but they aren't. As they drop results, the clubs around them have been gracious enough to do so as well - the result being that while the top three clubs in the Eastern Conference slowly start to pull away, four through eight look as close as ever. How else do you explain 1-3-1, a minus 8 goal differential, and yet only three points off of potentially going fourth in the conference?
The Dynamo have gotten very lucky with results around them lately. There's no denying that. Yet luck, as we've seen so often, is fickle. It runs out when you least expect it - and when you most need it. If the Dynamo want to have a shot a this, they have to make changes. Goals have to come. The defense has to be strengthened. Getting players back will help, but talent has never really been the problem here.
They've got to find a way to cut down on the mental errors. Somewhere recently, the Dynamo fell into a quicksand mentality. They're playing fine, but all of a sudden, they make a mental error, and they let in a goal. One goal. Not the end of the world - if you can keep your composure and settle down, something they were usually good at doing. But they don't now, for whatever reason. One mistake becomes two, two become four, and so on and so forth until the whistle blows for full time and they've lost by three or four or five goals.
Same thing with the offense. It's been offensive, but not in the good form of the word. Three matches in that even game swing, the Dynamo were held scoreless. Will Bruin's horrendous finishing and (apparent) lack of confidence is a huge part of this, but not the only part. It's all been covered before. They're not getting the service off of set pieces they normally get. Nothing has come from a back line that used to be good for a goal every once in a while.
For the first forty-five minutes last Sunday, that makeshift 4-3-3 didn't look half bad. Jason Johnson had a wonderful goal, his first in the league (after Alex Lopez made an equally wonderful assist for his first foray onto the scoresheet as a Dynamo player). Bruin's finishing was bad again, but he looked dangerous on multiple runs in from the midfield. With a number of pieces returning to the fold, it'll be interesting to see how Dominic Kinnear utilizes players going forward.
Because bad play aside, the Dynamo are very much still in this race. All it takes is one result - Saturday in Philly would be a nice place to start, by the way - to catch fire once more. One goal from Bruin can set the bear roaring. One glimpse of Brad Davis' left foot could provide this club with a shot of enthusiasm. Whatever the spark, though, it needs to come soon. The window is still open, despite the Dynamo's best efforts to try and shut it on their own hands lately.
The race is content to stand still for now, but it won't always be that kind. Points are needed, or that window will be shut for good. You can press that orange panic button if you so choose, but I'm not going to quite yet. I still believe. I know many of you do. But it's getting awfully late for another late season run - if it hasn't started soon, you'll know when that window closes. Dom, please, don't wait too long to right this. Because it can be done. We still keep faith.