The Houston Dynamo just can't catch a breather right now. After dropping points three weeks ago to the Colorado Rapids, the Dynamo dropped more points on the road in Toronto, before traveling again and winning a hard-fought point against MLS powerhouse, Real Salt Lake.
The Dynamo will be tested again with a tough schedule that involves hosting Eastern Conference leaders, New York Red Bulls, this weekend, before traveling to LA to take on the Galaxy, who lead the Western Conference, and then returning to Houston to host FC Dallas, in the Texas Derby.
It's hard to say which Dynamo team will see the field on Saturday; will it be the goal-scoring, defense-shredding team that dismantled DC United, the defense-focused squad that held its own and shut out Real Salt Lake, or the flat-footed, chance-wasting XI that disappointed in Toronto? Who knows, but with Saturday's game being a massive conference match (and coming a few days before the start of CONCACAF Gold Cup call-ups), Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear would be wise to field his best team and go for New York's jugular.
Given the results from weeks past, Will Bruin and Cam Weaver will likely spearhead Houston's front line. Sergio Koke could get the nod to start in place of Weaver, who has looked languid in the last few games, but that decision will be based on how Koke's chemistry with his teammates is progressing and if he is match-fit.
Dynamo assist leader, Brad Davis, will get the start on the left side of the midfield, next to Geoff Cameron and Lovel Palmer. Both Palmer and Cameron have looked better over the past few weeks, but both will need to put in a solid shift against a tough New York team. The big debate right now is who starts in the right midfield position. Colin Clark, who started against RSL, but was relatively anonymous, except for one stunning shot on goal, seems most likely to get the start. But, Jaimaican midfielder JeVaughn Watson's recent run of form, which includes 2 assists in the past three games, could be enough to bump Clark to the substitute's bench. Watson, who came off the bench to replace Clark against Salt Lake, has played well in the past few games. His service has been consistently good, and he has shown good skills at both holding up play, waiting for support, and creating attacking chances while taking on defenders. The x-factor in this decision could be the Gold Cup, which will pull Watson into national team duty, meaning Coach Kinnear will have to do without him for a number of games. That could tip the balance to Clark, if Kinnear wants to build the young midfielder's confidence and chemistry with the team.
The Red Bulls' speed and strength will be another tough test for the Dynamo defense. When the two teams played in New York earlier this season, Houston's back line was beaten but not broken thanks to a number of excellent saves from Tally Hall and tough tackles from Andre Hainault. That night in New York was also the first time we saw Corey Ashe start at left back, a position he has since seemed to steal starting rights away from either Mike Chabala or Kofi Sarkodie.
Houston's back line should stay unchanged from that night (and last week), and Ashe should start alongside Bobby Boswell, Andre Hainault (coming off Team Of The Week honors), and Hunter Freeman.
"Bobby and Andre have been good," Kinnear said. "They both attack the ball well and have a good understanding of each other. I think Andre's having a good season for us, and Bobby's a good talker and is very calm on the ball, so it's a good combination that's working well for us right now."
"We know what happened on the weekend, and New York is going to look to correct what went wrong last time, so it'll be a challenge," Kinnear said when asked how the Dynamo can duplicate last week's success.
Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe will have his own set of issues when it comes to selecting his starting XI. Rumors are rampant that French striker Thierry Henry will not make the trip to Houston after injuring his knee, and midfielder Carl Robinson is out with a knee injury.
[Update: Glenn Davis is reporting that Henry will miss the game in Houston after not traveling with the squad due to his knee injury. The latest injury report from MLSSoccer.com is only up to date through Thursday night and does not list Henry.]
Young forward Juan Agudelo looks best suited to start in Henry's place and will be handful for Houston's defense when paired with former Nott's County forward Luke "Offside" Rodgers. The Dynamo should also expect to see former-Houston star, Dwayne De Rosario, Jamaicaan midfielder Dane Richards, Mexican midfielder Rafa Marquez, and young USMNT prospect, Tim Ream.
It will be a start-studded night in Houston and has all the makings of a mouth-watering clash, especially after New York's embarrassing 3-2 loss to Chivas USA last weekend.
"Looking at their last two games, the one thing you can't do is step out on the field with any fear," Kinnear said. "It's important that our first step is forward and to be positive. I think we can take a lot out of our performance in Salt Lake with how we held the ball away from home and there's no reason we can't do that here."
- Houston midfielder Brad Davis will tie former standouts Brian Mullan and Pat Onstad for the club record with 136 appearances in MLS regular season play for the Dynamo if he appears in Saturday's match.
- Houston's roster includes two players who have represented the club currently known as the Red Bulls: midfielder Brad Davis, who played with the MetroStars as a rookie in 2002, and defender Hunter Freeman, who played with New York in 2007-08.
- Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall is expected to start against New York for the third time in his career in regular season play, more than against any other MLS team. Hall has stopped 11 of 14 shots in his previous two games against the Red Bulls, including a perfect 5-for-5 against French star Thierry Henry.
- The Red Bulls and Dynamo rank first and third in Major League Soccer, respectively, in corner kicks, New York with 65 (56 by Rafa Marquez) and Houston with 56 (55 by Brad Davis). However, the Dynamo have netted three goals from corner kicks in 2011, while the Red Bulls have scored just once.
- The Dynamo are winless in their last eight games (0-3-5) against New York, dating back to a 1-0 Houston win on May 31, 2008. However, Houston is 2-0-3 at home against the Red Bulls in regular season play.
- Houston midfielder Brad Davis leads MLS with six assists and is already halfway to his career high in assists: 12. His career regular season total stands at 70 assists, 13th in MLS history and third among active players. Dynamo assistant coach Steve Ralston is the all-time leader with 135 assists.
- Dynamo forward Will Bruin ranks tied for fifth in the league in goals (4), fourth in shots (27), and is tied for fourth in shots on goal (12), while goalkeeper Tally Hall ranks fourth in saves (30).
- Midfielder Lovel Palmer is the only Houston player to play all 1,020 minutes of the club's season so far in all competitions, including the team's U.S. Open Cup qualifier.
- The Dynamo are expected to be without forwards Calen Carr (concussion) and Brian Ching (plantar fasciitis) and midfielder Danny Cruz (knee hyperextension) for Saturday's match.
Houston Dynamo - OUT: FW Calen Carr (concussion); MF Danny Cruz (R knee hyperextension); FW Brian Ching (L plantar fascitis)
New York Red Bulls - OUT: MF Carl Robinson (R knee contusion)
- Juan Guzman. SAR (bench): Greg Barkey; JAR (opposite): Ian Anderson; 4th: Baldomero Toledo
- Guzman's MLS Career: 2 games; FC/gm: 33.0; Y/gm: 3.0; R: 1; pens: 1
Project Houston Dynamo Starting XI
F: Will Bruin
F: Cam Weaver
LM: Brad Davis (C)
CAM: Geoff Cameron
CDM: Lovel Palmer
RM: Colin Clark
LB: Corey Ashe
CB: Bobby Boswell
CB: Andre Hainault
RB: Hunter Freeman
GK: Tally Hall
Substitutes: Tyler Deric (GK), Eddie Robinson, Mike Chabala, JeVaughn Watson, Jermaine Taylor, Sergio Koke, Jason Garey
Feel free to check back here Saturday night for a live-stream or check out Dynamo Theory for Zach's game stream, thoughts, and more.