Dynamo looking to regain fire vs. Chicago
The Dynamo are seeking their 35th successive unbeaten home game when they welcome the Chicago Fire to BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday, but the team is also focused on a smaller figure - the number one.
As in: one defeat in their previous match, one win the target in their next. A team that rarely loses twice in a row is determined to resume business as usual. Losing at one of the most testing away venues in MLS is no disgrace. But one of the Dynamo's aims is to reproduce their remarkable home form in road games, so the 2-0 defeat to the Portland Timbers felt painful.
"This loss last weekend definitely hurt, it's kind of like a slap in the face and hopefully a bit of a wake-up call," veteran striker Brian Ching told HoustonDynamo.com. "It just shows us that we need to not only be good at home, we need to start imposing ourselves more on the road as well."
The first half at JELD-WEN Field last Saturday was even but Portland found an extra gear after the break and did not look back after Ryan Johnson's 55th minute goal. The forward added another in the 73rd minute to rubber-stamp the Timbers' first win of the campaign and earn himself MLS Player of the Week honors.
"In the first half we came out with that confidence and played the way we wanted to play in Portland," said Ching. "In the second half we kind of took our foot of the gas and I think a little of that goes with confidence, a little of that goes with the other team being at home and gaining a little confidence and pushing the game a little bit more."
It was the Dynamo's second MLS road defeat of the season, but they have won all three of their league games at BBVA Compass Stadium and could go top of the Eastern Conference with a win on Sunday, depending on other results.
The Dynamo were 11-0-6 at home and 3-9-5 on their travels in the 2012 regular season but produced exceptional away performances when it mattered most, beating Chicago 2-1 at Toyota Park in the playoffs and then thwarting Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United over two legs to earn their second consecutive MLS Cup final appearance.
Regardless of location, Ching wants the team to replicate the relentlessly positive attitude that has drawn the club level with Real Salt Lake's record of 34 unbeaten home matches in all competitions.
"At home we stay confident the whole game," he said. "When the playoffs come around we keep that mentality for the entire game and that's something that we've lacked I think over the past three years when we've been going on the road. It's just a mental shift that we need to stay confident, stay strong and kind of push the game.
"Because we're a good team - you see it at home, always constantly pushing the game. I think when we do that for a full 90 minutes your confidence stays higher and you really don't give the other team a chance to get confident."
HIGHLIGHTS: Ching's hat trick vs. Chicago Fire
For a shot of self-belief against Chicago, all the Dynamo need do is recall the fixture between the clubs in August 2010. It was a Robertson Stadium classic, Houston winning 4-3 thanks to a Ching hat-trick. His second was a stunning overhead kick after a thumping shot from Bobby Boswell had rebounded off the crossbar.
"One of my more memorable goals. I don't score a lot of those of that nature, let's put it that way," Ching smiled.
Houston twice held a two-goal lead but the Fire recovered to bring level at 3-3 in the 81st minute. One of Chicago's strikes came courtesy of current Dynamo forward Calen Carr. But Ching's header from a corner with five minutes left gave Houston an unforgettable victory.
"He's had big games for us over the years," said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear. "The [goal] that will stand out was the overhead kick from five yards out, that was great play by him."
It is one of the more memorable fixtures Kinnear has experienced. "There have been a lot of real good games, I think, playoff games always obviously stand out the most," he said. "But when you think of regular season games there've been some good ones and that's up there."
Turns out, it's the Dynamo's most recent regular season win over the Fire. Four straight ties followed Ching's heroics, then a 3-1 win for the home side in Illinois last September.
The Fire had picked up only one point from their first four games of 2013 but claimed another three on Sunday thanks to the inspired introduction of Maicon Santos off the bench. The forward scored two late goals to give Chicago a 3-1 win over the New York Red Bulls at Toyota Park.
"The Fire are a very good team, they've played us well. Having said that, they were a team that were struggling and kind of got a big win last weekend. They're a dangerous team, they were obviously predicted to be one of the better teams in the East at the beginning of the season, I think it took them a little while to jell," said Ching.
"They're a team that obviously has the talent, they got that first win and it could give them a boost of confidence that they need. It's going to be a difficult game for us coming in but we're a confident team at home. Especially after a disappointing loss in Portland I think we need to kind of come out and establish ourselves again here at home, like we have all year."
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian as well as SI.com.