The Major League Soccer season is long and the barren spots are inevitably out there.
But that doesn’t make a dip in the road easy to swallow, not for a proud club like the Houston Dynamo, an organization that has appeared in four of the last seven MLS Cup finals.
Dominic Kinnear’s club has lost two in a row – both at home, no less, a rather shocking development considering that 36-game unbeaten streak at home across all competitions that just went kaput.
So maybe Kinnear’s men don’t mind being on the road, especially not at a place where they’ve had some high-profile success. Houston has eliminated Kansas City at Sporting Park for the last two MLS playoffs.
Kickoff this afternoon on NBC Sports Network is 3:30 p.m. ET.
On the other hand, Peter Vermes’ club is playing wonderfully at the moment, turning up with the consistency that was missing during a surprisingly wobbly launch into 2013, even while dealing with some back line instability.
Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Jimmy Nielsen and the rest of SKC’s stars were responsible for dumping Houston’s showy unbeaten run at home into the nearby Gulf of Mexico two weeks back. In fact, Sporting went from there to D.C. United and were quite unfortunate not to find six points from the back-to-back set of road matches.
Ike Opara scored a perfectly legitimate goal in the 30th minute at RFK Stadium – but one that match officials completely blew. The game officials and the Professional Referees Organization have all copped to the big error. (Seriously, it wasn’t even close). But that doesn’t really help SKC, which finished level in a 1-1 result at RFK.
“Whether [the assistant referee] lost concentration, whether he just doesn’t know the rules, there were just a lot of different things where the guy made a big mistake,” Vermes said. “It’s unfortunate, because it’s two points over the course of the season.”
Opara may be back in the lineup, although Vermes has his full choice of center backs again. Besler, the U.S. international who missed three matches with a knee sprain, was back last week for the draw United. And Aurelien Collin is back off a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation.
Injured right back Chance Myers may also be healthy enough for a start after missing three of the last four.
While SKC’s back line gets healthier, the Dynamo will begin dealing with a short stretch of life minus veteran center back Bobby Boswell. He’ll miss two matches for a naughty head butt last week against New England. The timing is particularly poor because central partner Jermaine Taylor could also be slowed (or out) due to a shoulder injury.
The Dynamo do have that deep midfield, with the top league assist man over the last few years, Brad Davis, plus Oscar Boniek Garcia and new Scottish man Andrew Driver all presented as options for Kinnear along the outside. Davis can also play inside if Kinnear chooses to rest Ricardo Clark or Adam Moffat.
Don’t forget, Clark has played as a center back before – so perhaps Kinnear uses that depth creatively and gets all his best men on the field?
Whomever gets the assignment, SKC’s Claudio Bieler awaits. The team’s first-year Argentine DP striker has six goals, tied for second-best this year in MLS. And they’ll be watchful for Zusi, whose four assists shares the league lead.