Welcome back! It's been awhile.
The Dynamo were one of a few lucky teams to have two weeks off during FIFA's International break and it couldn't have come at a better time. Leading into the bye, Houston were plagued with injuries across the back line and in great need of regrouping. They come out of the break a bit fresher and prepared for a Saturday clash against this week's bottom of the West, Real Salt Lake.
Setting the Table
Before we look ahead, let's look at what the West did while we were away. With Houston resting, half of MLS continued to chug along through the break, reshuffling the standings with a few of the Dynamo's competitors playing matches. A win this Saturday will bring Houston level with San Jose and just within striking distance of at least one team that's in a three-way tie for the final playoff spot. Here's where we are today:
There isn't an easy path to the playoffs and the Houston Dynamo are well aware.
"We're four at home, three on the road," says Will Bruin, the striker with 10 goals to his name this season. "It's still in our hands. If we win out, we're gonna be in the playoffs... it's very feasible for this team."
Head coach Owen Coyle agrees. "We know we have big performances in us. What we have to do is bring that consistently and, if we do that, then we're confident we can have a good run, pick up points, and we'll see where that takes us."
The Jetsetters' Return
Playoff pressure aside, Houston enters this match without a fully healthy squad. DaMarcus Beasley missed Tuesday's training and Coyle is pegging him as "doubtful" for the weekend. Kofi Sarkodie is back in training but only doing solo work on the sideline so his status is up in the air. For the most part, everyone else appears healthy and the return of the four Internationals (Giles Barnes, Erick Torres, Luis Garrido, and Boniek Garcia) should provide plenty of coverage in the starting lineup.
As we reported on Tuesday, an agreement between Houston and the Jamaican federation gave Barnes a rest against Nicaragua, despite the team resting on the edge of World Cup qualification failure. An 89th minute goal by Simon Dawkins saved the Reggae Boyz, however, and allowed Barnes to earn a full week of rest before returning to Houston.
Importantly, Erick Torres also found minutes on the field with Mexico's U-22 team this week. The Mexican Internationals played three friendlies and Torres found minutes in two matches, starting one of them. Unfortunately, despite Mexico winning 5-0 over the weekend, Cubo couldn't grab a goal but the minutes should provide some added fitness for a player that Houston looks to rely on for the next month.
Settling a Score
Houston have built up a strong home form throughout the summer, with their most recent loss coming to San Jose on May 5th. That's good news with the majority of matches at home because, to paraphrase Bruin, the Dynamo need to win every match they can.
"For whatever reason, we come out with a little more swagger at home," says Bruin. "There's that kind of silent confidence walking on the field... 'we're gonna take care of business today.'"
That mentality would be a huge benefit against Real Salt Lake. Not quite mathematically out of the playoffs, RSL sits 9 points outside with seven matches to go. Amidst a tight Western conference, there's just not much of a path for Salt Lake.
In a way, Salt Lake are not very different from Houston, struggling with injuries and finding chances difficult to put away with every match. Back in July, Houston couldn't find an edge in Utah, dropping to 10 men and losing 2-0 on the night. The Dynamo may have been without Beasley or Barnes, but they pathetically logged just four shots and conceded nearly 60% of possession.
They may still be missing Beasley, but Houston should be better equipped to deal with RSL so long as they control their temper. Bruin has been extremely effective this summer (with a strike rate around 30%) while Ricardo Clark has taken no time at all to find his sharpness after a brief injury. Salt Lake will be equipped with the always-dangerous Javier Morales but Houston will now deal with the unknown quantity of Juan "El Burrito" Martinez, a new attacking signing that should see time in Houston during his second match.
MATCHES TO WATCH
COLORADO RAPIDS v. DC UNITED (SAT, 8:00PM): The Rapids are trying their best to start a streak but will find a stiff test with hosting the Eastern leaders, DC United. Colorado is just two points behind Houston, making DCU the team to root for so that the Dynamo can create separation in the standings.
SAN JOSE v. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (SAT, 9:30PM): A big matchup with big implications for Houston. A San Jose loss will give Houston a chance to tie up the 7-spot with the 'Quakes, but allow Seattle to pull away. The returns of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins probably signal Seattle starting a run anyway, so fans of Orange will want to see Dom Kinnear drop three points at home.
ORLANDO CITY v. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (SUN, 6:00PM): An East/West faceoff presents a chance for Orlando City to make a push for the Eastern playoffs (the Lions sit two points outside the red line). That's good news for Houston as an OCSC win could slow SKC and leave them in a shaky spot on the table.
The Houston Dynamo return to action on Saturday to host Real Salt Lake at 7:30PM (CDT) at BBVA Compass Stadium. Tickets are still available by visiting HoustonDynamo.com. Catch the television broadcast on ROOT Sports.