If nothing else, Sunday night in Philadelphia felt like the raising of a towering white flag. Those clad in orange trotted across the PPL Park pitch, misplaying through balls, hesitating runs, and just generally looking as if the season's outcome did not rest on that night's result. It's a severely disappointing result, to the fans, players, coaches, and front office alike. It was a missed opportunity that felt like the end of the season.
Now, with five matches left, Houston enters an uncertain territory. On one hand, the miracle of miracle runs could still slip the Dynamo into post-season play. On the other, the team certainly doesn't look like a playoff contender this year and could use these waning matches as a test for those so infrequently called upon this season.
Injuries and suspensions have already crossed a handful of names off the list and Houston will enter Wednesday night with some starting defenders and midfielders absent. While that is a sore spot for the Dynamo to be in, Raul Rodriguez's return from a yellow card suspension will help anchor a defense that has now played back-to-back matches highlighted by poor communication and lazy shape.
If Owen Coyle is ready to begin experimenting, then consider the door open for players like Mauro Manotas, Leonel Miranda, and Rasheed Olabiyi. Based on his performance in Philadelphia, Miranda is likely a lock for a wing against Kansas City but beyond that is a question of whether the Dynamo have any fight left.
The attacking conundrum remains unresolved for Houston, as well. Since Cubo Torres' arrival to the roster, the Mexican forward has played more than 45 minutes just once and has tallied a single assist in nine matches. That's also a shame because Chandler Hoffman, who was loaned to the USL in order to make room for Cubo, has four goals and an assist in ten matches. Surely, there's at least one more chance for fans to see Hoffman in orange this season.
Kansas City, who once flirted with Western mediocrity this year, have secured fifth in the table with a bit of cushion from the playoff line. However, they'll travel into town with some critical absences if the injury report remains unchanged from Friday. Starting goalkeeper Tim Melia and midfielder Amobi Okugo both missed the 3-1 victory over Dallas last week. Roger Espinoza, who is Brad Davis' MVP nominee, suffered a potentially season-ending injury in July and won't be a factor either.
How much spirit is left?
Going into Wednesday, I'll be honest, things don't look great. A makeshift backline plagued by injury meets the popular USMNT-snub Benny Feilhaber (fresh off a brace) and his left-side partner Krisztian Nemeth (who's nailed the Dynamo twice this year). Ask the experts and they'll tell you that Kansas City is likely to pepper Houston with shots all night. Probability tells you at least a few of those are headed for the back of the net.
But, and this is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the Houston Dynamo, the team loves to surprise. A 2-0 win against Vancouver, a 3-0 win over the LA Galaxy... the Dynamo have done well this year to squeeze complete performances against the league's best in between shambolic displays. The inconsistency has driven everyone mad and, against all odds, you might not be too crazy to bet on Houston come Wednesday.
DEF Jermaine Taylor (OUT)
DEF DaMarcus Beasley (Calf)
MID Alex Lima (Hamstring)
MID Luis Garrido (Yellow Card Accumulation)
DEF Ike Opara (OUT)
MID Roger Espinoza (OUT)
MID Amobi Okugo (Knee)
GK Tim Melia (Hamstring)
MATCHES TO WATCH
MONTREAL IMPACT v. CHICAGO FIRE (WEDS, 7:00PM): I mean, I guess. If you want.