The Houston Dynamo and Portland Timbers are not so different, really. Both teams have struggled to find footing this season but, through the return of injured players and settling chemistry, each squad feels like the momentum has finally shifted their way. Each team is coming into BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday following gritty 2-1 road wins in Canada. Houston, however, has the echoes of a cruel month of home matches that they need to overwrite.
Houston Dynamo - Nathan Sturgis (MF - Shoulder Dislocation) looks to remain out on Saturday; Brad Davis (MF - Hamstring) could see action after sitting out against Toronto. New signing Mauro Manotas will not be available while he waits on paperwork to clear.
Portland Timbers - Will Johnson (MF - Broken Leg), Michael Nanchoff (MF - Hernia), Gaston Fernandez (FWD - Turf Toe) have all recovered from injury and seen minutes in the Timbers II USL side as part of recovery. None have returned to the senior squad but that could change on Saturday, with Johnson possibly seeing his first minutes of the season.
Diego Valeri v. Luis Garrido - Portland's Argentine midfielder has returned from knee surgery and improves with each match he plays. Valeri's conducting of the offense from midfield has been instrumental for the Timbers in the past and, as he slips back into match fitness, there's little question that he'll retain that importance. Houston's Luis Garrido will be the one to break him down in defense while Sturgis remains out. The Honduran has been playing well - though not up to 2014 standards - and needs to commit to stopping Valeri's dribbles before he gets deep into the final third. Once there, expect to see one of Valeri's impressive passes to a waiting forward.
Fanendo Adi v. Dynamo Center Backs - Adi has netted three times this year but peppered the goal all season with his shots. Now that Valeri has returned for Portland, Adi becomes that much more dangerous and Houston could have a formidable challenge on their hands. Jermaine Taylor's marking has left some to be desired this season and communication will be paramount with whoever his pairing partner is (David Horst or Raul Rodriguez, depending on Owen Coyle's mood).
Nat Borchers v. Giles Barnes - The former Real Salt Lake defender has transitioned well to a stingy and disruptive backline in Portland. Barnes is well into a rhythm this season and his one-on-one play with Borchers should be a blast to watch all night.
The Dynamo played very well in Toronto, particularly without captain Brad Davis. The injury scratch paved the way for an interesting lineup that featured Alex Lopez and Will Bruin yet again, to nice effect. What was even more eye-catching was the benching of Kofi Sarkodie, in favor of shifting Raul Rodriguez and bringing David Horst back into the defensive fold. Contrasting Sarkodie, Rodriguez displays a hesitancy to move the ball forward. That gave Boniek a chance to control the wing and allowed for the Houston defense to remain compact and deal with Toronto's talented onslaught. The defensive results were certainly appealing and Coyle may opt to repeat at home where Houston has been horrendous, dropping eight points in the last three matches.
Boniek, Barnes, and Bruin were Houston's Killer B's last match, getting a goal or assist in Toronto. If the three are able to combine as well as they did at BMO Field, then Portland's characteristically staunch defense will face a decidedly tougher challenge than they did in Montreal.
The Dynamo host Portland at BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday, May 16th at 7:30PM. The match can be seen on ROOT Sports and heard on 1560AM/850AM. Tickets are still available at HoustonDynamo.com.