The flame, somehow, is still lit. Following Wednesday night's incredibly hard-fought 1-0 victory in Toronto, the Dynamo and the rest of the East Conference enters their final three games of the year with very little decided. Here is where we stand in the final weeks of the season:
The key takeaway is that Houston, should they win all three remaining matches, would likely win a tiebreak against any other team that is competing for the final playoff spot. The first designated tiebreak is number of wins (the Dynamo can max at 14) and if Houston wants to compete for the fifth slot, then they'll need teams ahead of them to falter in the coming weeks. Keeping in mind that the best point total Houston can attain is 48 (and assuming Houston gets there), let's take a look at the upcoming schedules in the Eastern conference and see what route leads to the post-season.
New York Red Bulls
Since the Dynamo signed DaMarcus Beasley and Luis Garrido to kickstart their impressive form as of late (6-3-2 from August 3rd), few other teams have kept pace. New York, unfortunately, has. Also 6-3-2, the Red Bulls have a deadly attack consisting of the likely Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips and Lloyd Sam. RBNY will host Toronto FC and Columbus Crew before finishing their season in Montreal. Currently sitting on 44 points, it looks a safe bet that New York will manage to clear the Dynamo-max 48 points, putting fourth place out-of-reach for Houston. Indirectly, however, New York is a team to root for as their matchups with Toronto and Columbus (both of which they are likely to win) could help provide a clear path for the Dynamo to edge into fifth.
This is the team with a giant bullseye on their back. At first glance, a four-point separation seems enough to kill Houston's chances but it's not. Needing six points to stave off the Dynamo (five points could result in a tiebreak), the Crew need to win two of their last three. With their less-than-impressive road form and two of their remaining matches away from Crew Stadium, it appears Columbus is set up to falter. The match in New York will be a big tipping point but the other two are facing Philadelphia Union in a home-and-home series. Philadelphia has rarely lost at home but are certainly apt to draws (as Houston and Chicago can attest) and could provide spoiler for Crew as they try to finish strong on the year.
Toronto is not doing much right for the end of the year but they could still keep the Dynamo out if they manage to right the ship. With a point lead on Houston, winning out gives no room for the Orange to make a move. That said, Toronto travel to play New York and New England -- two teams not likely to be challenged by Toronto very much. If the Reds drop any points from these two matches (or a home fixture against Montreal), then count them out.
If the Union and Dynamo win their remaining three matches, then Houston would advance on tiebreak. With Philly playing two of those against Columbus, it's safe to say that Dynamo fans will be rooting for them along with New York. Should the Union win either match against Columbus, it very well may pave the way for the Dynamo to sneak in, yet again, to the playoff picture.
It all comes down Houston tapping into whatever drive they found to win on Wednesday night and continue winning through the rest of the year. A loss will complicate things and put them on the brink of elimination (a spot Dynamo fans are familiar with this year). One more match of international absences makes for a tough one at home against DC United and then again versus a red-hot Revolution but the goal this year isn't to make the playoffs; it's to win the Cup. If Houston wants to do that, they'll need wins against two top teams in the East. If that's manageable, then they'll need to cap it off against an ailing Chicago team at Toyota Park.
It's tough, this year especially, to predict the outcomes of these games. The Eastern Conference is very much a bloodbath and should go down to the final day of games. One thing about all of it is simple, however. Houston needs to win and win them all. In the meantime, Dynamo fans will have to (reluctantly) support New York and Philly and hope for a boost into the fifth spot.