With ten minutes to go on Wednesday night, the Houston Dynamo were down a man and up a goal. This scenario has played out before this season - and it usually doesn't swing Houston's way. But that night, something was different.
David Horst clenched his fists and screamed out to his teammates to finish those excruciatingly long ten minutes. DaMarcus Beasley clapped his hands at his midfielders, commanding focus. Owen Coyle's jovial demeanor was overtaken by almost angry encouragement, driven by his belief in his players. The spirit which waned so much in previous matches made a startling return and ten minutes later, the Dynamo had snagged a crucial three points.
"We were right up on the wall," said Will Bruin, who poked a Beasley cross home for the go-ahead goal. "We hear all the outside noise. We hear what's going on. We know where we stand. If we let that separate us as a group, we're going to fall. We win together, we lose together. We gotta keep that camaraderie going."
That resolve will encounter a recent wound on Saturday night when Houston confronts the Colorado Rapids, the Western cellar-dwellers that shocked the Dynamo last month with a 2-1 victory. It was a match that Houston wasn't prepared for but feel they are now mentally tuned better than that demoralizing weekend in August. Physically may be another story, however.
"We've said when we've got our best players - I don't care who we play, I'll take anybody toe-to-toe. But we've not been afforded that luxury," said head coach Owen Coyle. "We've played the same [lineup] once. Once all season."
The constant tinkering of lineups has been a point of understanding frustration among players and fans this season and, unfortunately, it isn't over quite yet. Kofi Sarkodie (bone bruise) and Luis Garrido (hamstring) are weathering injuries, trying to get back on the field. Boniek Garcia, despite a respectable performance at right back, will sit out this weekend on a red card suspension. And three vital players - Ricardo Clark, Sheanon Williams, and Giles Barnes - are one yellow card away from a suspension on accumulation.
Rectifying the Rapids
Last meeting, the typically defensive Rapids came out with a Kevin Doyle-led attack and Houston couldn't handle. That will likely be the same look on Saturday but with a poor road form, Colorado could be more defensive than they were at home last month. What that would mean is two five-man midfields going at it making for a congested middle third, short possessions, and lots of turnovers. Sounds like exciting soccer, right?
The "togetherness" that Bruin and his teammates have spoken about will certainly be tested Saturday. With minutes (and playoff chances) ticking away, the Dynamo will need to find ways through the Colorado midfield and get a look at a back line still reeling from a Giovinco dissection last weekend.
Matches to Watch
COLUMBUS CREW v. PORTLAND TIMBERS (SAT, 6:30PM): Portland is the one to watch here. A terrible road form would bode well for the East's second place team, Columbus. That would also keep the Timbers at 41 points in the West's last playoff spot - three points ahead of Houston.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY v. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (SUN, 4:00PM): Kansas City have been busy this week and it's about to get worse when the rising Seattle Sounders visit with Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey back in the lineup.
SAN JOSE v. REAL SALT LAKE (SUN, 6:00PM): RSL have seen MLS and Champions' League play this week and will travel to California for a stiff test on the weekend. Both teams surround Houston in the standings (SJ - 7th, RSL - 9th) so a draw is the best possible outcome for the Dynamo.
The Houston Dynamo look to close out a busy week at home against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, September 26th at 7:30PM (CDT). You can follow it on ROOT Sports, 1560 AM, or 850AM. Even better, you could go to the match! Tickets are available at HoustonDynamo.com.