To tell the truth, the Houston Dynamo haven't been in a "must win" situation this season. There's been some "should win" (definitely a few of those) but the team honestly haven't been in a do-or-die scenario just yet. Coming off a cross-country road trip that yielded just a single point certainly has helped creep the team into that territory, however.
Now, after facing a hellish week of injury and disappointment, the team is headed home for a match against the Vancouver Whitecaps. That would be the Whitecaps team that is coming off a midweek Canadian Championship over Montreal. That's also the Whitecaps team that is sitting second overall in the Supporters' Shield race, one point behind the LA Galaxy. Nobody said it would be easy.
Believe it or not, the Dynamo aren't done yet. Saturday night's match against Vancouver is the first of their remaining eight matches of the season and their last for nearly two weeks - giving the team a much-needed break for International friendlies. Houston still sits three points out of playoff position but, following the loss to Colorado, have lost their game-in-hand advantage making their uphill battle a tiny bit steeper.
The Whitecaps look a bit like Mount Everest at the moment. The Vancouver team has been fun to watch this season and has a locker room bursting with talent. There's David Ousted, one of the top goalkeeping prospects in the league, who not only has been monolithic between the posts but also provides a lift in the attack with goal-minded distribution. Kendall Waston is a fierce presence on the back line and provides effective cover in the air and on the ground, making him critical to one of the league's most ungenerous defenses.
Finally, there's forward Octavio Rivero and midfielder Kekuta Manneh. The two have formed a bold partnership with 15 goals and 8 assists combined. Rivero's notched four game-winners in MLS play and it was his first-half jab that sunk Montreal in Wednesday night's Voyageurs Cup that sealed the Whitecaps' first ever Canadian Championship.
So what are the Dynamo to do?
For starters, it depends on who can physically start. This past week, there's been a mix of players injured, getting minutes, and getting injured again - particularly in defense. That could spell trouble against a potent Vancouver team coming off a successful trophy run. DaMarcus Beasley, Kofi Sarkodie, and Raul Rodriguez are all dealing with injuries and Alex Lima did not have a positive showing at left back against one of the worst offenses in the league. Houston's best chance lies with one of those injured defenders getting back into the field of play if they can.
Let's not forget scoring. Questionable substitutions in Colorado aside, the team's offense has been relying on an in-form Will Bruin and an out-of-form Giles Barnes. By nature of his playing style, Bruin can't be effective if he's not getting any service and a woeful six shots by the Dynamo against Colorado (four of them outside the box, one of them a PK) simply won't be enough against a difficult Vancouver opponent. This might finally be the moment to slot Cubo Torres in for Barnes. If not now, then when?
HOU*: Jermaine Taylor (OUT), DaMarcus Beasley (Q), Giles Barnes (Q), Kofi Sarkodie (Q), Raul Rodriguez (Q), Ricardo Clark (Probable)
*(As of 8/21)
VAN: MID Ben McKendry (OUT), DEF Pa Modou Kah (Q - missed 8/26)
MATCHES TO WATCH
LA GALAXY at SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (FRI, 10:00P): Dom Kinnear's team has been on a tear, carving through Kansas City and DC United in the last week spent on the road. Now, they invite the current MLS Cup favorites, LA Galaxy, into town for a big match. Bruce Arena's team has a poor road form in contrast to their Stub Hub Center record so it will be interesting to see if their infusion of talent can put an end to the Quakes' run.
REAL SALT LAKE at FC DALLAS (SAT, 8:00P): This isn't gonna feel great but Dynamo fans will want to root for Dallas here. Salt Lake are tied in the standings with Houston and the Dynamo need all the help they can get to keep teams off their back.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY at COLORADO RAPIDS (SAT, 8:00P): Thanks to Wednesday night, now we have to keep an eye on Colorado's matches, too. Sporting have been leaking goals lately so this is by no means an inevitable result. If the Rapids win, they could leap over Houston and right into the playoff picture against all odds.
PORTLAND TIMBERS at SEATTLE SOUNDERS (SUN, 3:30P): Seattle are hosting Cascadia rivals, Portland, on Sunday in a big match. The Sounders can feel Western teams closing in and are struggling to find answers, even at the fortress of Century Link Field. If Portland can continue their rise by besting Seattle, then Houston gets one more crack at tying the Rave Green in the standings.
The Houston Dynamo host Western powerhouses Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, August 29th at 8:00PM (CDT). You can purchase match tickets through HoustonDynamo.com. Television broadcast is carried on ROOT Sports and can be heard on 1560AM or 850AM.