Brad Davis believes Houston Dynamo can right the ship Sunday vs. Sporting KC
The intensity in Brad Davis' eyes burned like the midday sun as the Dynamo captain stressed that the players are ready for a battle against Sporting Kansas City (Sunday, 2:30 pm, NBCSN) and determined to atone for the past two defeats.
Houston's record-breaking 36 game home unbeaten streak was snapped by Sporting on May 12 when a late Aurelien Collin header decided a tight, physical encounter. Six days later, the New England Revolution profited from an under-par Dynamo performance and left BBVA Compass Stadium with a 2-0 win.
As luck would have it, the MLS fixture-schedulers are giving Dominic Kinnear's side a quick opportunity to avenge the loss to Kansas City. The Dynamo visit Sporting Park on Sunday afternoon, three days before FC Tucson head to Houston for a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup third-round clash.
Ousting the Arizona club could set up a Texas derby, with FC Dallas potentially lying in wait in the fourth round. For now, everyone in orange is focused on Sporting. The rivalry between the two Eastern Conference powerhouses produces close, compelling spectacles and is fast becoming one of the best in MLS.
The Dynamo's defense will require a reshuffle for the trip north. Houston's defeat against the Revolution can partly be explained by the disruption at center back during the first half. Jermaine Taylor had to be substituted with a shoulder injury and his status for Sunday is uncertain. Defender Bobby Boswell was sent off for violent conduct and will miss Sunday's match and the next MLS game away to the Columbus Crew on June 1.
But for Davis, personality matters more than personnel against Sporting.
"We have to come out with the proper mindset, the proper mentality. We're down a few guys and it's going to be hard. We're not going to always play the prettiest soccer but the effort is always going to be there from this team. That's what we demand of ourselves," he told HoustonDynamo.com on Wednesday.
"Obviously this is going to be a tough game, a battle. I'm looking forward to it, I think the guys are really looking forward to it, this is an opportunity to really put our best foot forward. Losing to them at home and losing to New England at home - not only do we not like losing, losing two games at home is even a little bit more disappointing. Guys right now are really ready to get back in that win column and I don't see why we wouldn't."
Having the BBVA Compass Stadium fortress breached twice in quick succession has instilled a renewed sense of purpose in the players, Davis believes.
"You can see at training it's intense, guys are on edge, that can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing but hopefully we use it to our advantage, come out with that edge. I think we need to have that bite back a little bit and go to KC and get at these guys," he said.
"We know we have a very good team, Dom gets us prepared and when we step on that field we have to be prepared as players to go out there and set the tone. We know what type of team they are, it's going to be a very difficult game, could be a very rough game but it's time to be men and step up and get the job done."
No one at the Dynamo is losing perspective: while any defeat hurts, let alone two at home in a week, the club has enjoyed a strong first third of the season and is well-placed in the East. Three points on Sunday will lift Kinnear's team above their opponents to second in the standings. The New York Red Bulls are top, four points ahead of Houston - but they have played two more games. Across MLS, only the Red Bulls have a better points-per-game ratio than the Dynamo.
But if you want to be a winner, you have to hate losing. Davis believes that the past two matches serve as a useful reminder that success means never letting your standards slip, even for a moment.
"We know what we want to do, we know how we want to play and I think we've gotten away from that a little bit. And that makes your realize what we're successful at and why we play the way we play. When we get away from that, that's when we start to struggle a little bit," he said.
"We've gotten away from it so now it's time to get back to what we're good at. Possess the ball, get the ball wide, everybody defends with a purpose. Doesn't matter where you're at, you're helping your teammate out and getting guys around the ball and having a mentality of being a tough team to play against. That's all that it is. Giving that other team a tough day's work. Make them earn it, don't give the game to them."
The U.S. national team midfielder added that the failure to bounce back against New England has given the team an extra incentive to return to winning ways on Sunday, regardless of the identity of the Dynamo's opponents.
"Against Kansas City I think we still battled well and did well, we had some chances to score. I think we easily could have come back and won that game, we just didn't; but against New England that's a game that bothers me and bothers the group," Davis said. "Even though it's Kansas City it doesn't matter. Whoever it would be, this next game needs to get us back to where we're at."
The Dynamo have knocked Sporting out of the playoffs with impressive road displays in each of the past two seasons. A 2-0 win in 2011 was followed by a resolute 1-0 defeat last November that saw the Dynamo progress 2-1 on aggregate.
"It's a tough place to play but we've gone there and won two very difficult games: backs against the wall, if we lose we go home type of deals in very difficult circumstances," said Davis. "Why can't we go there and do it again? There's absolutely no reason."
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian and SI.com.