It's been just over a month since the last encounter between Houston and Portland, then at BBVA Compass Stadium. The Dynamo's comprehensive 3-1 victory that night was the first time all season that the team was able to win back-to-back matches. They haven't since.
But following their 4-2 stomp on New York Red Bulls from June 5th (their last league match), Houston has a chance to start a streak -- this time in Portland. The biggest difference, however, is that this Dynamo will be significantly short-handed, missing key players from their May 16th matchup with the Timbers.
There's the Jamaicans, Giles Barnes and Jermaine Taylor, out on Copa America call-ups. Barnes netted the game-winning goal that night against Portland and is developing into a player that cannot be stopped in MLS. Taylor put in a terrific night of defense and tallied an assist on what was the Dynamo's best build-up play of the year - a nearly two-minute possession with every player touching the ball and capped with a sublime Will Bruin chip.
There's also recent injuries to key midfielders, Boniek Garcia and Brad Davis. A hard challenge during a Honduran friendly versus Brazil has sidelined Boniek who put in an awe-inspiring goal and two assist performance in 45 minutes against New York. Davis, who continues to deal with a bone bruise, will also sit out despite sending in a team-high 4 assists this season.
That leaves lineup gaps on the wings, in centerback, and alongside Bruin. Normally, this would feel like a dire situation but an encouraging Open Cup performance against Austin on Wednesday night sheds favorable light on several young talents that could slip into those roles on the weekend.
There's Man-of-the-Match Leonel Miranda, who bossed the midfield and netted his first goal for his efforts. Alex (acquired from Chicago) received high praise for his technical skill and playmaking ability - particularly with Miranda. Rob Lovejoy's endearing endless hustle provides an option up top and, suddenly, things don't seem so bad.
Defense is still a question mark, however, but Coyle certainly has no shortage of options. AJ Cochran, Kofi Sarkodie and Corey Ashe, all of which saw Open Cup action, could be called upon and Raul Rodriguez might shift back to the center. This is perhaps the Dynamo's weakest element - not because of shortcomings in quality but because of players playing out of position or, critically, not communicating as effectively as they should.
That lack of communication was evident when facing Austin as Cochran and Ashe showed moments of rust when trying to coordinate the defense. Both players still contributed greatly to the rare Dynamo clean sheet but against the potent attack of Portland, rust equals liability.
And defense will likely be what the Dynamo heavily rely upon come Saturday. Midfielder Diego Valeri has returned from a brief injury and, if last time these teams met is an indication, Luis Garrido should be the man to neutralize him.
The other two players that Houston struggled to contain in May are Fanendo Adi and Rodney Wallace. Adi is an immense presence up top for Portland and his speed gave Dynamo center backs fits throughout the night. Wallace was a more sneakier option that found the right amount of space to execute unanticipated runs. It may not be immediately clear just yet who is playing defense for Houston, but they cannot afford to leave either of those players unmarked.
The Houston Dynamo visit Portland Timbers on June 20th, at Providence Park. Kickoff is 9:30PM CDT and the match can be found on ROOT Sports and heard on 1560 AM/850 AM.