Well, that's one match down. About the result I honestly expected, though definitely not the way I thought it would come. And now, the Houston Dynamo have to turn right around and play another one. Just three days after Adam Moffat's stoppage time heroics gave the Dynamo a much needed draw against the Chicago Fire, the men in orange find themselves just down the road for a midweek clash with the Columbus Crew.
Interestingly enough, it will be the second time this season the Dynamo have followed up a match with the Fire with one against the Crew - a month ago, they followed a 1-1 home draw with Chicago with a 3-1 home victory over Columbus. The two sides also met in Columbus on 1 June, with a depleted Dynamo side holding on to an early Warren Creavalle goal to earn a point in a 1-1 road draw.
If anything, this match will more closely resemble the road match than the home one. The Dynamo are again slightly depleted. Boniek Garcia and Jermaine Taylor are off on international duty this week, while Taylor's replacement, Eric Brunner, is back in Houston with a sprained ankle suffered off of an ugly tackle from Chris Rolfe in Sunday's match. With Ricardo Clark still questionable with illness, this means that it might be rookie Anthony Arena (who made his MLS debut in the 1 June draw after being subbed in for an injured Brunner) paired up with veteran center back Bobby Boswell - not necessarily what Dynamo supporters want to see in a backline that's looked somewhat porous as of late.
Of course, they'll facing a Crew side still without their most formidable weapon, as striker Federico Higuain will be serving the second match of his suspension. The Crew is also regrouping after internal moves, with longtime fixture Robert Warzycha having been ousted as head coach on Monday. Warzycha was replaced with technical director Brian Bliss, who will have the task of trying to salvage whatever remains of the Crew's postseason hopes - though the amount of influence this will have on Wednesday's match is debatable (and has been duly debated).
Houston and Columbus are the two MLS sides with the fewest number of goal scorers - both have eight - though Columbus does have a player with double digit goals this season. Unfortunately for the Crew, that player is the suspended Higuain. It showed last Saturday, as a Crew side that was up a man for eighty-three minutes failed to score in a 1-0 loss to Seattle. Somebody - whether it's Dominic Oduro, Jairo Arrieta, or Ryan Finlay - has to step up for the Crew, and we'll see whether or not the new coach can spark a fire under his team to do so.
On the reverse side, the Dynamo have to find some consistency. Luck got them a point in Chicago. As good as Tally Hall is - and let's face it, he's probably still a bit underrated - he can't be expected to carry the club match after match, especially going into his sixth match since 17 August. Adam Moffat isn't going to be undefended like that very often, and not many opposing clubs are going to inexplicably change what had been successful tactics with half an hour to go - effectively giving the Dynamo a foothold back into the match.
Will Bruin and Giles Barnes were hot for a stretch earlier in the season. Can one (or both) of them find that form again? Will Brad Davis finally start to rack up assists from set pieces again, something that's been missing from the Dynamo attack this season? Will Calen Carr's return be what they need? Does Cam Weaver deserve a shot at starting in league play? When will Alex Lopez be acclimated enough to start to contribute noticeably?
These questions and more need to be answered at some point. The Dynamo showed heart in their fight to get out of Toyota Park with a point - something I gave them a lot of credit for. Now they need to show heart again. Nobody else in the Eastern Conference plays a midweek match. This is one of those games in hand so many supporters were glad to have a few weeks ago - the Dynamo need to try and make the most of it. While there's no such thing as a given three points in league play, this is a winnable match, if the Dynamo can play it right.
They'll need a second half Chicago performance, though. If they stumble out of the gate like they did Sunday afternoon, it suddenly gets that much harder. From this point onward, there are no throwaway matches. Every fixture must be planned for, each opponent respected, and every match treated as a must win. That's the simple way to get into the postseason. Is it an easy road? Not at all - because every other club will be doing the exact same thing.
Still, this is very much a race the Dynamo can stay in. They did so by heart and Hall on Sunday, and they'll need to find some way to do so again Wednesday night. It may not be easy, but this club has shown that they have that capability. That being said, only ninety minutes on the pitch will show where they are. It'll be must-watch television from Columbus Wednesday night, and we can only hope that in the end, it'll be the Dynamo who reap the rewards.