- Houston winless since May 8
- Dynamo without Brad Davis, Boniek Garcia
- Montréal claiming league best points, goals per match
On May 8, Houston went to RFK Stadium and blitzed D.C. United, a result that not only reaffirmed our doubts about Ben Olsen’s squad but helped confirm preseason suspicions about the Dynamo. Having solidified in the offseason, Houston convinced most pundits that they’d avoid the fifth place finish that complicated last year’s route to a second-straight MLS Cup final. Since, however, Dominic Kinnear’s team is winless in a four-match span that’s seen the team handed their first losses at BBVA Compass Stadium. They’ve also managed only one of a possible six points from New England and Columbus.
Houston also played Sporting Kansas City twice in that span, so it’s not like the Dynamo had the easiest of months, but the struggles still bring preseason expectations into perspective. At MLS Cup last year, when I asked Kinnear about his team’s fifth place finish, he expressed some mild disappointment with his team’s placing. “We certainly didn’t try to finish fifth,” he said, a response which, months later, provided a hint as to how a bulked up Dynamo team would tackle the 2013 season.
With the second-highest point rate in the East, Houston appear to have improved on last year’s mid-table performance, yet given their last months’ slide, it’s worth considering where things may be going wrong. With only two goals in their last four games, the answer seems clear, but with Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia just returning from national team duty, things may not get better tonight in Montréal (8:00 p.m. EDT kickoff at Stade Saputo). Will Bruin, Andrew Driver – somebody needs to find a way to create chances in the absence of the team’s two best players.
The Impact are coming off their own disappointment, having lost this weekend in Columbus. Though Montréal remain the only MLS team claiming at least two points per game, the Crew provided a reminder of the Impact’s unique quality. Given their talents and how Marco Schällibaum’s setting his team up, Montréal is the team you’d least want to grant the opening goal. Not coincidentally, despite the league’s best goal rate, they’re also a team disproportionately hurt by giving up the first goal. Even a team like Columbus, a decent but far from elite side, can take down the Impact if they score early and force them to play so different from their base approach.
But when we’re talking about a team that’s sitting atop the Eastern Conference, these are trifling concerns. All successful teams have styles they prefer. Montréal’s is a patient, conservative approach that becomes opportunistic, aggressive when Patrice Bernier finds Marco Di Vaio in transition. Of course, they’re not unbeatable, but a short-handed Houston making the long, mid-week trip to Quebec, we’re likely to see why Montréal, in only their second season, are a viable Supporters’ Shield contender.
If they win, Montréal will open up a four-point lead on second place New York, a huge gap considering the Impacts’ two matches in hand. If Houston wins, they’ll leap into a tie with Red Bull for second place, one point behind the conference leaders.
Other notes: Aside from Davis and Garcia’s absences, both teams will be at full strength … Referee Chris Penso has issued eight red cards and given 13 penalties in his 38 MLS games … Teams are 1-1-1 all-time against each other … Montréal has recently flirted with a 4-4-2 formation, trying to get Andrew Wenger more time. For former No. 1 overall pick was ineffective in Columbus, subbed off early in the second half … With captain Davy Arnaud available, Montréal could return to the 4-5-1 … Houston get Bobby Boswell (suspension) and Jermaine Taylor (international duty) back in central defense, allowing Ricardo Clark to return to midfield … When that defense lost Eric Brunner early in Columbus, Anthony Arena made his full debut; Rookie Jason Johnson got his first start of the season in Columbus.