Dynamo welcome unfriendly confines of JELD-WEN Field
Like the Dynamo, the Portland Timbers enjoy one of the best home atmospheres in MLS and the sound is far more than just background noise.
Compare Portland's home and road record last year and you get an idea of what an asset the intimate, boisterous confines of JELD-WEN Field are to the Western Conference club. In 2012, the Timbers were 7-4-6 on their own pitch, but just 1-12-4 on the road.
Ahead of tomorrow night's clash, Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear accepts that Portland is one of the more daunting venues in MLS but sees the decibel count and sell-outs as a positive for the league in general.
"It's difficult, don't get me wrong - they're not for us, they're against us. But you'd rather have it that way than nobody there," he told HoustonDynamo.com earlier this week. "I think the guys love going there. You'd rather go to a stadium that's full with great fans than go somewhere where there's no one there watching. That's what you want for professional soccer. The sport is growing as we know and going to places like Portland, Kansas City, Seattle and others, it makes you enjoy the sport even more."
Dynamo defender Eric Brunner was a Timbers player in 2011 and 2012 because Houston acquired the veteran center back in the offseason.
"The way the stadium's set up, the sound stays inside, there's a giant building in the back that keeps the vibrations and noise bouncing off," he said. "It stays pretty loud so you have to be on your toes when you're playing there.
"Any time you play at home I think you get an advantage. Just like our fans here in Texas, they pump us up for games and we want to play for them, just like their players want to play [for their fans]. They renovated it from a baseball stadium so it's intimate. It's cool, it's right downtown and it's a big thing for anyone who goes to the games. We're definitely excited to go there and get a result."
The Dynamo arrive in Oregon seeking their first road win of the season after defeats to FC Dallas and Santos Laguna but knowing victory will lift them to first place in the Eastern Conference. They'll face a Portland team chasing its first MLS win of 2013 under new coach Caleb Porter.
Portland's record of three draws and one defeat suggests a slow start, but the picture is more complex. While a defense featuring former Manchester United and Arsenal defender Mikael Silvestre has made the occasional mistake, in spells, Porter's team have been hard to contain.
They rallied from a 3-1 halftime deficit to draw their season opener at home to the New York Red Bulls, 3-3. They rallied against the Seattle Sounders with an injury-time equalizer to grab a 1-1 tie against their Cascadia rivals. And, yes, they rallied against the Colorado Rapids last week to draw 2-2 after being down 2-0 at the break. Their season has also featured a 2-1 home loss to the Montreal Impact.
"I think all teams are like that at the beginning of the season... you have your good moments and your bad moments," said Kinnear. "The one thing you can take from watching them play is they definitely give a full effort for 90 minutes. They've come back quite a few times already this year so you can never count them out."
The Dynamo will be without the club's top scorer last season, Will Bruin, who has a hamstring strain. But Giles Barnes has excelled in attack and has found the net in the past two matches. The Englishman says he is comfortable up top even though he's better known as an attacking midfielder.
"I played as an out and out striker as a schoolboy right until I made my first-team debut. So those kind of instincts were always in me as a kid," he said.
His goals against the Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes were headers from pinpoint crosses, so he is appreciative of the quality the Dynamo possess on the wings with Brad Davis, Boniek Garcia and Andrew Driver.
"Our deliveries from wide are incredible and obviously you've got Corey [Ashe] and Kofi [Sarkodie] overlapping and supplying as well so you've got umpteen amount coming in," he said.
And Houston have proved they can block out the din of the Timbers Army and get a result. They beat Portland 2-0 at JELD-WEN Field back in October 2011.
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.