MLS playoff focus: Notes on Houston Dynamo ahead of Wednesday’s second leg at New York

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  • Ridiculously busy days for the Dynamo

The last two weeks have been an absolute whirlwind for Dominic Kinnear’s men. Most likely, a physically taxing one, too.

On Oct. 24 they were in Central America, falling in Champions League action to Panama’s Arabe Unido. Then they traveled …

On Oct. 27, they fought their way into the post-season by winning at D.C. United. Then they traveled …

Four nights later, on Oct. 31, they cruised past Montreal in a 3-0 elimination match win over the visitors from Canada. Keep in mind, that was three consecutive “elimination” matches. That’s a lot of mental stress and required focus. …

Three days later, last Sunday, they were on the field again in that 2-2 draw with New York. That second half rally was certainly something else, but it’s also fair to wonder how much that took out of the Dynamo, who may not have a bunch in the tank anyway. …

Now, just three days after that, Kinnear’s crew will be playing its fifth match in 14 days (with four lengthy plane trips). Let that sink in.

  • Penalty kick appeal at the end Sunday

The series looks different thanks to Ricardo Salazar’s choice to eject Jamison Olave in the 65th minute Sunday.

It was the right call. Olave was late. His tackle was from behind, reckless and potentially injurious. Furthermore, it was absolutely unnecessary (not that Salazar should factor that part … just saying.)

So perhaps the man in the middle would have been more inclined to whistle the late penalty kick appeal, as center back Ibrahim Sekagya clattered into Houston striker Omar Cummings from behind a step inside the penalty area. How different would we all feel about this series if Houston could play for the draw?

(MORE: Preview of Wednesday’s match at Red Bull Arena)

  • Ricardo Clark rising

Is there a Houston Dynamo man playing better right now that center midfielder Ricardo Clark?

Admittedly, no one will ever confuse the Dynamo’s rangy midfielder, better suited for a holding role, for a pass-master of Andres Iniesta quality. But he’s doing some creating work in the middle lately, playing slightly further forward than fellow Dynamo central midfielder Warren Creavalle. He supplied some tricky stuff in the team’s 3-0 win over Montreal and then provided a lot of gritty drive as the home team rallied Sunday to make up a two-goal deficit.

Clark probably gets a little more room in midfield because the man to his right, Boniek Garcia, gets so much defensive attention, drawing the second and third defender by taking on the first opposition arrival.

  • Omar Cummings off the bench

The Dynamo may have something in the ability to bring Omar Cummings off the bench. The former, longtime Colorado Rapids striker hasn’t put much of an imprint on his first Dynamo season, with much of the year spent still in injury recovery. But he did change the game Sunday upon his introduction for Giles Barnes.

Awareness of his speed may have prompted Olave to lunge into that telling tackle (the red card), which changed this series in an instant. Cummings may have drawn that penalty kick (see the item above) and then he did find some room to poke in that stoppage time equalizer.

Kinnear seems likely to stick with Barnes to start, but look for Cummings around the 60th minute once again, depending on the situation.

  • Better set-piece service from Davis ahead?

Davis’ service on restarts wasn’t consistent Sunday, probably having something to do with the short grass at BBVA Compass Stadium, where the fall weather has erased the regional growing season.

Players on both sides commented on the fast field, and it’s difficult to hit a precise restart when there’s no room to get beneath the ball just a bit.

The Dynamo has been dangerous on corner kicks and free kicks for so long, in large part, because Davis can reliably hit balls into the near post, far post or directly on top of the primary aiming point at the top of the six-yard box.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.