The Houston Dynamo are looking to turn the season around Sunday night against following last week's disappointing 3-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids. The loss to Colorado, Houston's most disappointing game of the year, almost ended the team's hopes of making a run to the playoffs. But a victory against the Earthquakes, who sit in the eighth and final playoff spot, just ahead of the Dynamo, could give the club the boost they need to put together a strong showing in games on the final stretch of the season.
Games like tonight's are often called ‘six-pointers', and if Houston (6-11-5) can pick up a win over San Jose, then the club could be one step closer to gaining possession of the final play-off spot.
‘It's three crucial points,' said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear. ‘San Jose are six points ahead of us with two games in hand, and the best way to gain ground on them is through head-to-head match-ups.'
The match also represents another chapter in the rivalry between the two teams. Prior to moving to Houston in 2005, the Dynamo were actually the San Jose Earthquakes. The Earthquake became the Dynamo when AEG, the club's majority owners, were able to secure a soccer-specific stadium in Houston, moving coach Dominic Kinnear and his team. Although all of players and Kinnear moved to Houston, the team's name, logo, history and statistics were not transferred and remained inactive in San Jose until the Earthquakes were reactivated in 2007.
‘Even preseason games have always been very intense,' noted Kinnear. ‘They always have been good games to be a part of. It brings out the best in competition from both teams, and I expect nothing different.'
As exciting as the rivalry is, both teams are playing for playoff positions, with Houston nearly at a do-or-die point.
‘We have to worry about ourselves and getting three points,' said Richard Mulrooney. ‘Whether there is a history of relocation, trades, fans, whatever, it doesn't matter. Any more slip-ups or let-downs, we're going to be looking at our offseason plans instead of the playoffs, and that's a major concern for us.'
Houston haven't made things easy on themselves though; the team expects to be without Brian Ching and Anthony Obodai due to injuries, and will not have Francisco Navas Cobo or Lovel Palmer, who opted to play for their home countries in international matches.
‘It's unfortunate that he's made the decision to go away,' said Kinnear. ‘That's the decision he's made, and it's put us in a bit of a spot because we spoke last week about having the squad together and healthy for the first time, and now it's going to be changed for the next two [games].'
Palmer will also miss the home game against Toronto FC as a part of his red-card suspension from the Colorado game.
While Palmer will be unavailable, the Dynamo midfield should be strengthened by the return of Brad Davis, who feels better after picking up an injury two weeks ago.
San Jose will also be dealing with a few key absences; defender Bobby Convey is out due to yellow card accumulation, forward Ryan Johnson is playing for the Jamaica national team, and goalkeeper Joe Cannon, defender Ike Opara and midfielder Andre Luiz are all out with long-term injuries. Defender Ramiro Corrales, midfielder Eduardo and defender Chris Leitch also have injury concerns.
For the Dynamo to have success against San Jose, they have to limit former Dynamo forward Chris Wondolowski's chances in the attacking third. The striker already has eight goals this season and will be looking for more to strengthen his team's playoff position.
‘We know Wondo very well, and he's a great finisher...We have to keep an eye on him inside the box,' said Dynamo goalkeeper Pat Onstad.
Sunday's match-up will also mark the first time Geovanni plays in Houston. The Brazilian midfielder transferred to San Jose in July from Hull City, who were relegated from the English Premier League this past season. Geovanni should worry the Dynamo defense and Pat Onstad if San Jose have any sort of free-kick opportunity within thirty yards of goal.
The Dynamo will need to start the game strong, like they did against Chicago, if they want to control the match and give themselves the best advantage possible to win. Too many times this season, we have seen the team get behind early in matches and chase opponents. On a night like tonight's with team that has struggled so much, going down early could be the death blow to this team's playoff dreams.
Houston Dynamo Possible Starting XI
F: Joseph Ngwenya
F: Dominic Oduro
LM: Brad Davis (C)
CAM: Geoff Cameron
CDM: Richard Mulrooney
RM: Danny Cruz
LB: Mike Chabala
CB: Eddie Robinson
CB: Bobby Boswell
RB: Andrew Hainault
GK: Pat Onstad
Subs: Tally Hall (GK), Anthony Obodai, Brian Mullan, Adrian Serioux, Ryan Cochrane, Dominic Oduro, Cam Weaver, Sammy Appiah; if fit, Brian Ching starts on the bench for Appiah
Houston wins 1-0 with Joseph Ngwenya getting the loan goal off of a Geoff Cameron pass from the midfield through the middle of the pitch.
Check back here and at Dynamo Theory throughout the match for updates and commentary.