This week, the Houston Dynamo find themselves in a bit of trouble. Four points off the final playoff spot occupied by Seattle, the Dynamo now have to deal with Dom Kinnear's San Jose Earthquakes, who posted a 5-0 hammering in Kansas City on Wednesday. That's good enough to edge past Houston for the moment but also puts huge emphasis on Friday night's match in Portland.
The Dynamo didn't do themselves any favors last weekend by dropping a poor second half performance in a disjointed and unusual loss in New England that saw a couple hours of weather delays. However, with nine of the last ten matches remaining against Western opponents, there are several more ripe chances to deprive competitors of points while working up the table.
That can start on Friday night in Portland against a Timbers team that seem to have recovered from a slow start. The duo of Fanendo Adi and Diego Valeri are once again driving the Portland offense and have gone on an impressive run as of late, losing only 3 of their previous 13 matches.
This will be the third matchup between the two teams, and the second in Portland this year. Back in May at BBVA, Owen Coyle assigned Luis Garrido to hover over Valeri throughout the night and it worked wonderfully, snuffing out not only Valeri's possession but any chance that Adi's crafty runs would connect on one of his passes.
A month later at Providence Park, however, the Dynamo weren't prepared for a new-look Timbers team that consisted of an injured Valeri and Adi from the bench. That night, Maximiliano Urruti and Gaston Fernandez pried apart the Houston defense for a goal each, leaving Houston flustered just a week after a huge 4-2 victory on New York.
Adi and Valeri have since returned to the lineup and are likely to face Houston on Friday. After a poor performance in New England, Coyle has a few options at hand but a safe bet would have to be Garrido on Valeri. This might also mean the end of the Sturgis-Garrido defensive midfield tandem, after a disappointing run of performances in the last few weeks. Looking for a longshot idea? Rasheed Olabiyi could slot in while Ricardo Clark continues to rehab his injury. The Nigerian has been effective each time he's stepped on the field and a full match might surprise us all.
The attack is where things could get interesting with Erick Torres nearing or at full fitness. It's easy to see the vision in the young Mexican International, but whether by rust or lack of confidence, his time on the ball seems to be figuring out where to distribute rather than putting a shot on frame. If he can shake that off to claim ownership of the ball, then either Cubo or Will Bruin off the bench could pay great dividends at the end of a match.
HOU: Jermaine Taylor (OUT; Quad tear), Ricardo Clark (hamstring)
POR: Ben Zemanski (OUT; ACL tear)
MATCHES TO WATCH
DC UNITED v. SAN JOSE (SAT, 6:00PM): If San Jose is going on a run, then Supporters' Shield leaders DC United are the best chance to snuff it out. Houston needs a United victory to stunt the Earthquakes or Kinnear's team might be on one of his characteristic late-season streaks after toppling two tough opponents back-to-back.
REAL SALT LAKE v. SEATTLE (SAT, 9:00PM): This is the biggest non-Houston match of the weekend. RSL are two points behind and Seattle are four ahead. Any result is going to make this tougher for the Dynamo but the gamble would be on Seattle losing to keep that last spot within reach. If the Sounders, who now have Obafemi Martins back in the lineup, pull off a win, then Houston could be looking at a steep hill to climb.
The Houston Dynamo will be in Portland at Providence Park on Friday, August 21st at 10:00PM CDT. The match can be seen on Unimas and listened to on 1560AM and 850AM.