His name is Fabian Castillo and -- for Houston, at least -- he is a very serious problem. The fiercly quick Colombian midfielder has long terrorized the Dynamo back four and this season he's performed dazzlingly against the Orange, tallying two goals and two assists in both of FC Dallas' victories. Come Sunday, when the two teams meet for the final encounter of the season, Houston best have a response for Castillo or their season will be dead by Monday morning.
The Dynamo sit three points behind the playoff line with just three matches remaining -- each of them against very difficult Western opponents. In order to breach the playoffs, they'll need to win every single one to be sure and even then, it's not an absolute certainty. A third loss of the season to Dallas could leave Houston one weekend away from mathematical elimination.
Settling into Place
But there are flickers of life in those that don the brilliant orange. The plague of injuries and call-ups are now weeks behind and half-convincing victories over Sporting Kansas City and Colorado Rapids have shown fans that this Dynamo team are capable of more than they have let on.
Will Bruin is officially in Beast Mode, with a goal and two assists in the last two matches -- not to mention his spectacular runs and vision that were on display against Colorado. Brad Davis, too, has a goal or assist in six of the last seven matches. And along the right side, the technical ability of Leonel Miranda (who notched a 3' goal on Saturday) gives Houston a bit of style that hasn't been seen much this year.
The defense, however, is still reeling from several weeks of roster-depleting injuries but look to be on the mend. The inclusion of Rasheed Olabiyi in front of the back line has been promising and his presence might help the Dynamo defense discover a dose of stability. At the least, Houston is well aware of the mental lapses of defensive concentration and hope to be more organized against a Dallas team capable of tearing them to shreds.
Everything on the Line
The motivation will be there for the team from Frisco, too. With two games in hand, Dallas is a win away from knotting up the Supporters' Shield top spot with Los Angeles (and New York, New England, Columbus, and Vancouver). A loss to Houston would jeopardize attaining their first silverware since a 1997 Open Cup victory.
But Dallas will be ready to face a team with a lot at stake. Their forward attack of Tesho Akindele and Mauro Diaz have a combined 10 goals and 8 assists, providing a nice test trial for Houston ahead of their last home match against the infamous Seattle tandem of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. And the very gifted center back pairing of Matt Hedges and Zach Loyd also presents a tough shell that Houston will have to be creative to crack.
MATCHES TO WATCH
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES v. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (SAT, 9:30PM): Two points above the Dynamo, Dom Kinnear's new team will have to start losing if Houston has a shot at the playoffs. The 'Quakes have scored the least amount of home goals than any other MLS team (15) and facing a 2nd-place Vancouver might spell the end of San Jose's great September form.
PORTLAND TIMBERS v. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (SAT 9:30PM): Another uncomfortable weekend rooting for a rival. This time, it's the Open Cup champions Sporting Kansas City that will need to fight through fatique on the road after a cross-country trip to Portland. The Timbers are three points up in the last playoff spot so a loss can allow Houston to tie it up -- if they beat Dallas.
The Houston Dynamo meet FC Dallas with everything on the line on Sunday, October 4th at 4:00PM (CDT). This is a national broadcast and can be seen on ESPN2 or heard on the radio at 1560AM and 850AM.