The hits keep coming. In a year that has seen Tony Cascio, Mark Sherrod, and Tally Hall end their seasons on ACL injuries, it isn't a stretch to say this is one of the most unforgiving years for the Houston Dynamo. Heading into the final nine games of the year as the playoff window gets tighter, head coach Dom Kinnear delivered more bad news ahead of Saturday night's home match versus Montreal Impact.
For a team that is already without MLS Team of the Week defender Kofi Sarkodie (yellow card suspension), they may be without Jermaine Taylor, who appears to have picked up a recent injury, and is listed questionable along with Will Bruin (twisted ankle). [EDIT: This has been confirmed. Taylor will be out with a concussion, Bruin with ankle] DaMarcus Beasley, who has missed the previous two games with a hamstring strain, looks more likely to play but shouldn't be considered a lock just yet.
With all these injuries, that leaves the Dynamo trotting out a brand-new lineup at BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday. Tyler Deric will be starting in goal for the injured Hall, while the only certainty in the back appears to be David Horst. While it seems likely that Beasley will take the left back position, don't be surprised if Corey Ashe gets another nod. Aside from that, our only other listed defenders that might play are Anthony Arena and AJ Cochran (who found starting minutes during the World Cup).
On top, without Bruin, our forward options shrink as well. Jason Johnson and Omar Cummings appear to be the only selections remaining to take the Dancing Bear's spot. The coaching staff of the Dynamo have hard work ahead as they craft the roster and perhaps it's a silver lining that they get to do so at home against league-worst Montreal Impact.
The Impact travel to Houston for the final matchup of the year between the Eastern Conference opponents. Houston hosted Montreal in a 1-0 victory in March before flying to Canada for a 3-0 loss in June. Montreal sit in the only Eastern slot behind the Dynamo; 10th place with just 20 points. Assuredly, their season is over at this point but they have recently come into the role of spoilsport, toppling other Eastern teams like Columbus (2-0) and Chicago (1-0) in August.
Those two wins are their only since the 3-0 victory against the Dynamo on June 29th. Following that match, Montreal slummed through a 7-game losing streak that solidified their place in the standings. The Impact have yet to win on the road (all 5 season wins come at the Stade Saputo) and have a road goal differential (-16) that is better than only the Dynamo (-20).
Houston have improved heading into the match, posting 3 wins and 2 losses in their last six. This is still only good for 9th place, but the Dynamo remain tight in contention for the final playoff spots. After the midweek games on Wednesday night, Philadelphia joined a 3-way tie for 4th place in the East along with Toronto FC and Columbus Crew (33 points). Should a few results go our way (NY losing at home, Chicago losing on the road at New England), the Dynamo could find themselves tied with New York for 6th, bringing the team closest to the playoffs in months.
To do this, they'll need to face adversity in the lineup and make a statement against Montreal. The Impact, plagued by a nightmare season, have done a bit of lineup shuffling of their own, though many view it was "too late" to make a difference. In August, Montreal signed Argentinian Ignacio Piatti to a DP contract and have seen a great rate of return. The 29-year old played his first full 90 minutes against Columbus last week and terrorized them with two goals and four shots, all of which were on-target.
"Nacho" Piatti's positioning at midfield opens up the attacking options for Montreal as Piatti can be deadly in the face of goal or also a playmaker, slotting a ball to Marco Di Vaio up top. This craftiness is something the Dynamo will need to contain and Luis Garrido should do well in the task. However, should something get past La Fiera, the makeshift backline of the Dynamo need to be on heightened alert. Deric will be most effective in his box and defenders a half-step behind the play will help dissolve Montreal's last barrier to the goal.
Impact's game versus Columbus also saw a very busy tandem effort from holding midfielders Patrice Bernier and Felipe Martins to restrict Federico Higuain to a quiet and frustrating night. The duo are effective at handling forwards but the Dynamo, with an intact midfield, may be able to overwhelm. The key here will be for the Dynamo to maintain midfield possession and break down Montreal's holding midfielders and defense. The bulk of Houston's talent sits in the middle of the pitch and it may prove too much for a team with a lack of confidence.
Lastly, Montreal have seen their own changes in goal, though by different circumstances. Impact goalkeeper Troy Perkins, after a long run of difficult matches, seems to have been replaced for the remainder of the year by 28-year old Evan Bush. Having seen 6 starts in the last 8 games (including the Impact's two recent wins), Bush seems to have grown more comfortable in goal and willing to be tested. Against recent opponents, however, he hasn't had to make many saves (certainly not in a 4-2 dismantling by New York Red Bulls on August 23rd).
The Dynamo should have their chances against a team limping through the remainder of the year and this game should be as good as any to quickly adjust a new lineup for a result. However, as we saw during the World Cup break, the Dynamo's depth is wanting and can become a very big distraction if things don't go right from the whistle. This is one of the last games where we can still write our own destiny without desperately needing other teams' results to go a certain way and the fact is not lost on the players. With a bit of confidence, we may just see what the Dynamo are capable of in this final stretch of games.
The Dynamo take on Montreal Impact in BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday, September 6th at 7:30PM. Tickets are still available from HoustonDynamo.com.The broadcast can be seen on CSN-Houston.