The Houston Dynamo travel to San Jose Saturday night for their penultimate game of the year and the final road game of the season when they face off against the Earthquakes.
While there may not be much to play for with San Jose having already secured a spot in the playoffs and the Dynamo out of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, this game is always a rivalry and seems to bring out the sparks from each side.
Houston (7-15-6, 27 points) is coming off of a 2-1 home loss but is 1-0-1 in its last two road games. The Dynamo roster includes seven former Earthquakes, and three of the four Dynamo coaches - head coach Dominic Kinnear and assistants Wade Barrett and Tim Hanley - have experience with San Jose.
San Jose (12-8-7, 43 points) has clinched its first playoff spot since the club moved to Houston following the 2005 season and is led by former Dynamo forward Chris Wondolowski, who has scored 14 goals this season.
The Earthquakes will play without midfielder Andre Luiz (knee surgery), defenders Brandon McDonald (yellow card accumulation) and Ike Opara (foot fracture) and goalkeeper Joe Cannon (ankle fracture).
The Dynamo will play Saturday's match without forward Joseph Ngwenya (red card) and midfielders Geoff Cameron (red card) and Colin Clark (ACL surgery). Forward Brian Ching, midfielder Anthony Obodai and goalkeeper Tally Hall were listed as questionable earlier this week.
Here are three things you need to know about Saturday night's game:
1. Former Dynamo forward Chris Wondolowski is making a late-season run for league MVP after netting 14 goals this season. The striker took home a second Player of the Week award in just four games after scoring two goals last week against D.C. United and having scored all of the Earthquakes last six goals. Tonight's match-up against Pat Onstad could be tough for Wondolowski, who was shut out by Onstad when the two met earlier this season.
2. The Dynamo will be forced to play without midfielder Geoff Cameron and forward Joseph Ngwenya, who both picked up red cards in last weekend's game against the New England Revolution. Ngwenya's absence, combined with an injured Brian Ching, means Dynamo forwards Dominic Oduro and Cam Weaver are likely to play all 89 minutes of Saturday's game. Those minutes could be very valuable for Weaver, who has lacked his power and form from last season since coming off of an early-season series of injuries. Cameron's absence will have more obvious impact on Houston's starting XI because the midfielder has seen significant minutes since returning from his knee injury. While Brad Davis can fill in as center-attacking midfielder, it seems more likely that Lovel Palmer will move up from the center-defensive midfielder position and Richard Mulrooney will fill in behind Palmer. That move will leave Brad Davis on the left wing and either Corey Ashe or Danny Cruz out on the right wing. If Davis does start in the middle expect both Ashe and Cruz to play on the wings and Palmer to stay in his normal position.
3. Third-string Dynamo goalkeeper Tyler Deric could get his first minutes in Major League Soccer play on Saturday if starting 'keeper Pat Onstad's hand is still bothersome. Onstad has played the last few games with the injury and one has to think that he would be resting if normal back-up Tally Hall was healthy. Unfortunately, Hall has been out with a high ankle sprain and has not even seen the bench over the last few weeks. Playing away in San Jose would be a tough first game for Deric, but he does need to pick up minutes at some point.
Here's what tonight's Dynamo starting XI could look like:
F: Cam Weaver
F: Dominic Oduro
LM: Brad Davis
CAM: Lovel Palmer
CDM: Richard Mulrooney
RM: Corey Ashe
LB: Mike Chabala
CB: Adrian Serioux
CB: Bobby Boswell
RB: Andrew Hainault
GK: Pat Onstad
Subs: Tyler Deric (GK), Ryan Cochrane, Danny Cruz, Eddie Robinson, Francisco Navas Cobo, Brian Ching
The match kicks off at 9 p.m. CT and can be seen in the Houston area on KHOU 11.2 and TV Informa and can be heard in English on SportsTalk 790 and in Spanish on La Ranchera 850.
Stop by Dynamo Theory later tonight for a gamecast with live discussion and analysis