After last week's disappointing loss to the Union, the Houston Dynamo need to rebound and regroup and against the Seattle Sounders FC on Friday night.
A late Friday kickoff, combined with an international break and cold, rainy conditions (the weather is supposed to be 49 degrees with rain at kickoff) are the ingredients for a strange night, especially for a game that both teams need to win.
So, with all that being said, let's answer some questions ahead of tonight's game.
1. Brian Ching is "healthy", should he play? Should he start?
Earlier this week, Dynamo captain and forward Brian Ching returned to training from his injury. He is listed on the latest injury report as questionable, but is rumored to be ready to play. After injuring his hamstring twice in pre-season action and once last year, each time resulting in costly and lengthy layoffs, the question has to be asked if Ching should play tonight against the Sounders.
Frankly, the answer should be no. At kickoff, the weather for tonight's game is forecast to be cold and wet. Combine those two with a hard and slick pitch, as well as questionable fitness, and you have a recipe for another hamstring disaster.
Ching is too important to the Dynamo, both as a leader and goalscorer to rush back to fitness. Earlier this season, I asked if he should even be playing all of the games (assuming he's healthy), and the answer then was also no. Ching needs to be played when the time is right and in games when the team needs him most. Asking him to return from injury on a hard pitch under trying conditions is just too much to ask. Ultimately, though, the call will be Brian's, and if he wants to play and feels that his hamstring is healthy, then Dominic Kinnear and his staff will be hard-pressed to convince him otherwise.
2. Danny Cruz or Corey Ashe, who gets the nod at right midfielder?
Until Colin Clarke returns from his extended stint on the physio's table, the starting right midfield position will be likely be a competition between Corey Ashe and Danny Cruz (Sarkodie could eventually change that, too).
Ashe started in last week's game against the Philadelphia Union and failed to live up to expectations. His runs were alright but his ball work and play was anemic. Ashe's crosses failed to deliver and, when needed, he was unable to drive the ball into the box.
Late in the game, Danny Cruz was substituted on for Ashe, and immediately livened up the game. While Cruz is sometimes a bit raw, his confidence is high and he isn't afraid to take on defenders one-on-one and drive the ball into the box.
Against the Sounders, Houston typically favors a long-ball style of game, a style that seems to benefit Cruz more so than Ashe. Additionally, Cruz impressed throughout the off-season and has shined when introduced late to games.
If Steve Zakuani wins his race to be healthy for tonight's game, Cruz could be the player who has the energy and pace to contain, or at least match, Zakuani.
3. Jermaine Taylor is out of the line-up due to international duty. Who fills in at centerback alongside Bobby Boswell?
Jermaine Taylor, Houston's newest centerback, was called up for international duty by his native Jamaica (interestingly enough, fellow teammate Lovel Palmer was not) and will miss Friday's match against the Sounders. With his absence, the question arises of who will and who should fill in at centerback alongside Bobby Boswell.
The arrival of Taylor and the departures of Richard Mulrooney, Adrian Serioux, and Ryan Cochrane thinned out Houston's back line and moved Eddie Robinson back to the substitutes' bench. Eddie, whose fire was missed against the Union, could make an appearance tonight, but seems more likely to start on the bench instead of at centerback. Just like Ching, Robinson has battled a number of joint and muscle injuries in the past, and the conditions for tonight's game could be too much for the veteran fullback.
Andre Hainault, who had been played at right back last season and at left back against the Union seems the most likely replacement for Taylor. Despite previously playing on the outside of the defense, Hainault was brought to the team to play centerback alongside Bobby Boswell. A Hainault/Boswell tandem is exactly what Houston will need against the always dangerous Sounders.
4. Will tonight be Kofi Sarkodie's first MLS match?
The young Akron alumnus didn't see any action in the season-opener in Houston, but could play some tonight in Seattle.
If Steve Zakuani plays, Dominic Kinnear will want a player who can match Zakuani's speed. Both players came from the Akron system and will be familiar with each, one of those intangibles that sometimes makes a difference.
Given Seattle's speed, Houston will need to start defenders who are agile and have pace. Hunter Freeman seems to fill those requirements and could start on the left side of defense in Hainault's place, opening up the right outside back position for Sarkodie to fill.
Playing Sarkodie certainly comes with its challenges. While the young defender saw the third most minutes of Houston players in the pre-season, he is still raw and Kinnear doesn't usually throw rookies into the mix this early on. The flip-side of that, is that Sarkodie looked the real-deal in pre-season and has lived up to the hype so far.
What it all comes down to, it seems, is whether or not Mike Chabala has done enough to impress and earn back a starting spot. If Chabala starts on one side of the formation, Freeman will likely be paired up on the opposite wing (with Boswell and Hainault) between, keeping Sarkodie on the bench. Ultimately, Sarkodie seems likely to get minutes tonight, though the may come late in the match from the bench.
5. Can Tally Hall contain Seattle again?
Despite having a short professional career, Dynamo starting goalkeeper, Tally Hall, has had two of his most impressive performances against the Seattle Sounders. During his rookie year in 2009, Hall tied the franchise record with 10 saves in an Open Cup semifinal (which the team eventually lost). In 2010, Hall also shined in a game where he had seven saves.
The question is, can Hall replicate success a third time?
Despite the early goal allowed against the Union (a goal Boswell took the blame for), Hall was never tested in the final 85 minutes of the game; the defense gelled and made smart decisions, as Hall directed from between the posts. Seattle is a different team and will press throughout the game, even if they manage to get a 1st half goal, so Hall should expect to be tested more. Even so, the young goalkeeper enjoys playing on the road and has played some of his best games away from home. Assuming his defense doesn't let him down, Hall should shine a third time.
6. Which Fredy Montero will fans see tonight?
Hard to tell since he has been inconsistent in the opening two matches, but let's hope it's not this Fredy.
Check SB Nation Houston later on tonight for my live-stream of the game (technology permitting) and don't forget the late kickoff time of 9 p.m. CT.
Also, the match can be seen on FOX Soccer and FOX Deportes and can be heard in the Houston area on KPRC 950 AM and La Ranchera 850 AM.