Corey Ashe

MLS playoff focus: Notes on the Houston Dynamo ahead of Saturday’s first leg against Sporting KC

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Ahead of Saturday’s first leg of this Eastern Conference finals series, here are the must-knows about Dominic Kinnear’s Houston Dynamo. A trip to MLS Cup 2013 is on the line. (Saturday’s match kicks off at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, and can also been seen on NBC Sports Live Extra)

  • Any gas left in the Dynamo tank?

Houston is playing its 6th match in 17 days, a fairly ridiculous (and certainly taxing) run of games. Players aren’t complaining, and their mantra of “We can rest in the post-season” is an honest and logical response. Still, there has been so much travel and so many tough matches (with a lot riding on every one) that you really have to wonder about the physical state of the team.

Especially as manager Dominic Kinnear has done so little rotating in the starting lineup. He really didn’t have a choice since the team was fighting so hard to go through in Champions League, to get into the playoffs and then to advance past Montreal and then New York in those playoffs.

The team finished 120 minutes against New York on Wednesday night, flew back into Texas the next day and was right back on the practice field for a light workout Friday, just 24 hours before the weekend kickoff.

“All the guys are feeling like they played 120 minutes two nights ago, so it’s been a difficult and pretty quick turnaround,” U.S. international midfielder Brad Davis said Friday via national conference call from Houston. “It is what it is. Both teams have to handle it. I think it’s really going to be a mental thing more than a physical thing at times. I think the guys are a little bit sore, but I don’t think they care about it too much. We’re looking forward to the game.”

(MORE: PST match preview, Sporting KC at Houston)

  • Ashe suspended, plus yellow card warning for the Dynamo

Houston left back Corey Ashe will sit out after collecting his second booking of the playoffs Wednesday in New York.

Two yellow cards in the playoffs means the offender sits out the following match. Right winger Boniek Garcia is the only other Houston man on caution warning. His would be an enormous loss, however, as the Dynamo’s most creative player. A killer pass from the Honduran international set the wheels in motion for Omar Cummings’ series-winner Wednesday at Red Bull Arena.

Remember, starting Jermaine Taylor is already missing along Houston’s back line. Eric Brunner has filled in for the Jamaican international.

Most likely replacement for Ashe: Mike Chabala, who has played sparingly for the Orange this year. Kinnear could also move Warren Creavalle there, as the versatile second-year man has spent some time at BBVA in the outside back position. That would require a midfield makeover, however, most likely with Davis sliding inside and Andrew Driver taking Davis wide role on the left side of Houston’s 4-4-2.

Or, could this be a way to get Omar Cummings, scorer of two critical goals off the bench against New York, into the starting 11? That would mean dropping Giles Barnes into the midfield for Creavalle.

  • Crunching numbers, and getting things right at the right time

Everyone knows Dominic Kinnear-coached teams know how to win in the playoffs. But it’s more than that; Kinnear’s teams know how to get their stuff together generally at the right time of year.

Consider that since a bad loss at home to New York back in mid-September, the Dynamo is 6-1-3 in MLS regular season and playoff matches.

Speaking of records, and since we cannot do one of these without mentioning Kinnear’s fantastic playoff record – especially since it keeps getting better in the current post-season – let’s get this over with.

Kinnear is now 14-7-4 in playoff matches with Houston. (Does he move ahead of Bruce Arena as “King of all MLS Playoffs” since the Galaxy is now out of this thing?)

And finally this: Kinnear’s team is 8-1-1 in playoff games in Houston since moving to South Texas from San Jose in 2006.

MLS suspends Kinnear for Sunday playoff game; Di Vaio, Romero get extended bans

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Marco Di Vaio and Andrés Romero earned additional two-game suspensions for last night actions in Houston, but it’s a suspension to a non-player that was the bigger news out of New York on Friday. Late evening Eastern time, Major League Soccer announced that its Disciplinary Committee had handed a one-match suspension to Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear, who will miss his team’s Sunday’s Eastern Conference semifinal opener against the New York Red Bulls.

Kinnear was handed the ban for leaving his technical area and entering the field of play in the 89th minute, a letter-of-the-law violation that overlooks the circumstances of his infraction. Kinnear’s entry onto the field came after Kofie Sarkodie was shoved to the ground by Romero, who was subsequently sent off for violent conduct. Kinnear appeared to be placating defender Corey Ashe as the melee wore down, a benevolent act that still violated the rules. On Sunday, he won’t be allowed on the sidelines or in the locker room as Houston hosts the Supporters’ Shield winners.

source: AP
Dom Kinnear left his technical area during Thursday’s confrontation. MLS has suspended the Dynamo boss for Sunday’s match against New York. (Photo: AP Photo.)

How much of an impact this has on the result will depend on Houston’s adjustments, but given the way Kinnear has steered his team through the last two postseasons, his absence could have a major impact, depending on how the game plays out. If everything goes to the team’s pre game plans, it may not matter. If New York jumps on Houston and the Dynamo need to adjust? They’ll have to do so without the two-time MLS Cup-winning coach.

On the other side, both Romero and Di Vaio had two games tacked on their their violent conduct, suspension they’ll start serving next March. After shoving Sarkodie to the ground, Romero violently kicked at the ball underneath the Dynamo defender. Di Vaio, Montréal’s first player on the seen, was also dismissed, multiple times appearing to scratch Ashe along the side of his face.

Nobody’s going to think twice about those bans, given how things ended last night in Houston. Kinnear’s absence, however, is sure to be discussed throughout the weekend. Houston will have to get by without him.

Houston Dynamo building reliably through MLS draft

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Homegrown signees are all the rage in MLS now, what every clubs wants to trumpet, and the amount of talent developed through clubs’ academy systems will only rise going forward.

But something else deserves mention now that Houston appears to have some summer issues sorted out, seemingly pointed in the right direction at the right time of year: under manager Dominic Kinnear, the organization has reliably cultivated starting talent through Major League Soccer’s annual SuperDraft.

Now that Warren Creavalle seems set as Ricardo Clark central midfield partner (Adam Moffat’s trade to Seattle was a pretty loud announcement that Kinnear’s staff thought Creavalle was ready), the Dynamo has four starters that were drafted by the team, molded by the team and then assigned into prominent roles.

That may not sound like much; other teams can and have developed reliably through the draft – but perhaps not as much as you might think. And not for as long as Houston has done so.

Corey Ashe, Will Bruin and Kofi Sarkodie are other current Houston starters who were plucked by the Dynamo in MLS drafts past.

(There are plenty of MLS clubs with several draftees starting or playing key roles, although not always for the club that selected them; MLS is fairly transient that way. Houston starters Tally Hall, Ricardo Clark and Brad Davis, for instance, were all MLS draftees elsewhere who eventually made their way to Houston.)

Don’t forget, U.S. international Geoff Cameron, now with the Premier League’s Stoke City, was the 42nd overall selection (3rd round) in 2008 for Houston. Not a bad pick at all, eh?

What’s more, in some of these years the Dynamo had precious few draft picks to work with, having traded them away previously. There are plenty of player acquisition mechanisms in MLS, from trades, to homegrown development, to discoveries and transfers. But smart drafting still works – just ask some of the familiar faces around BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.

Opportunity, but still a tough spot for Houston Dynamo

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A team that has appeared in the last two MLS Cup finals faces danger of not even making the 10-team playoff field in 2013. The Houston Dynamo is sixth at the moment, although armed with the advantage of a game in hand on most clubs higher in the Eastern Conference standings.

That added opportunity for matches will not matter, however, if Kinnear’s team cannot fix the problems that have risen through the summer, primarily the lack of scoring from forwards and some atypical leakiness in the back.

The simmering issues came to boil in last weekend’s 5-0 loss in Montreal, the worst loss in club history, and these problems are exacerbated by the schedule; Houston is in the middle of its busiest stretch of 2013. Try this for a brutal schedule: Seven matches over 23 days, with six plane trips in between.

And it’s not like Houston is training – when they get to train, that is – in some cool climate. Houston’s perennial sultry summers can have a debilitating effect if not carefully and dutifully managed.

All of which brings us to Tuesday’s CONCACAF Champions League match against Panama’s Árabe Unido. With last week’s CCL draw on the road, the Dynamo has a great chance tonight at BBVA Compass Stadium, able to gain great positioning in the reach for next year’s CCL elimination rounds. Kickoff at 8 p.m. ET is on Fox Sports 1.

With a match coming up this weekend in Chicago, against one of the clubs scrapping with the Dynamo for a playoff spot, Kinnear probably doesn’t have a choice but to line up several reservists.

Expect something similar to last week’s lineup as the Dynamo drew with W Connection down in Trinidad; First-choice men such as Bobby Boswell, Corey Ashe, Adam Moffat, Giles Barnes, Brad Davis, Oscar Boniek Garcia and Will Bruin were all on the bench to start that one. (Ricardo Clark, now injured, was also missing.)

Remember, passionate MLS supporters want teams from our part of the world to rise in Champions League, some believing the league will take a giant leap forward once an MLS teams claims the regional trophy. That may or may not be true.

But this is definitely true: Major League Soccer clubs and coaches are judged primarily on two things. First, did they make the playoffs? Second, how far did they go in the playoffs?

That’s it. Idealism where CCL is concerned is grand and all, but the reality is that league play dominates the narrative for an MLS club.

That’s why the Dynamo reservists will most likely be on the spot tonight at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Houston and Chicago battle to 1-1 draw in crucial mid-table tie

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Cameron Weaver scored Houston’s first goal from a forward since early May and Mike Magee grabbed yet another score as the Dynamo and Chicago Fire played to a 1-1 draw.

In a match with major implications for later in the season, two teams fighting for a spot in the playoff sector both battled hard but could do no more than share the points.  With so much up for grabs, both teams will be relatively disappointed not to snatch all the spoils.

The game began possession-centric as neither team sat back but neither team wanted to risk conceding first either.

Bobby Boswell thought he had the opener in the 18th minute with a far-post header off a Corey Ashe cross, but the assistant referee’s flag went up.  Replays showed Boswell was on, although Ricardo Clark may have been barely off next to Boswell.

Both teams were forced to make first-half injury substitutes.  Houston’s Alex Driver suffered a right Achilles injury with Brad Davis coming on for his 300th MLS appearance earlier than Dominic Kinnear had hoped.  Chicago were forced to sub defensive midfielder Alex after a yellow-card challenge from Giles Davis.

The Dynamo had another near-miss in first half stoppage time when a horribly lazy back-pass from Bakary Soumare almost gave Cameron Weaver an open net but Paolo Tornaghi came out well to smother the chance.

The first half ended scoreless, with little action on goal otherwise.  Both teams had chances to build but not much otherwise.

In the second half, Houston came out with more determination and a more attacking sense, and developed many more chances early.

Chicago’s best chance of the match fell in the 58th minute when Jalil Anibaba sliced in a low cross to Joel Lindpere who skied it way over.

Weaver won the ball on the right wing at the mid line, and sent it across for Corey Ashe.  Ashe sent the ball through for a streaking Brad Davis, who cut it back across the face of goal for Weaver who sidestepped it in.

The goal blasted the game wide open.

Houston’s lead didn’t last long as two minutes later Patrick Nyarko navigated traffic in the box to send it across the face from right to left and Magee was there for the tap-in.  The goal from Magee is his seventh score in nine matches since joining Chicago in late May.

Chicago almost got a cheap goal when the ball deflected to Chris Rolfe on a breakaway but Tally Hall’s fantastic diving save kept the low shot out.

The Dynamo continued to pepper Chicago’s goal, but the Fire held well. In the 77th minute Boenik Garcia found Barnes who was smothered again by Tornaghi before being cleared. Then the 83rd minute saw a cutting bit of passing find substitute Jason Johnson but his open shot was saved by a diving Tornaghi.

Houston dominated possession the rest of the way but could not unlock the Chicago defense for a late winner.

The draw slots Houston back into the top-5 in the East after a quick dip down following New England’s win earlier in the day.  For Chicago, they remain five points back of Houston for that final playoff spot, although there’s still plenty of time to make something happen.