Winless slumps to be expected in parity-driven MLS
The MLSsoccer.com website has an unusual feature – a results chart sprinkled with red, green and orange dots that look like pizza toppings.
The chaotic placement of the color-coded Win, Loss and Draw buttons indicating this season's results is a reminder that most clubs find it tough to be consistent in a demanding league where there's often little to choose between the teams.
The Dynamo are heading to the East Coast for Sunday's game against the New York Red Bulls (1 p.m. CT, ESPN2/ESPNDeportes) on the back of six MLS matches without a win, but a midseason dip isn't unheard of at a club famed for its ability to produce results when the pressure is on down the stretch.
Last season the Dynamo had a five-match spell without a victory between March and May, then a five-game winning streak in July and August on the way to MLS Cup. That run began when, after two goalless draws, the attack kicked into life in spectacular style with a 4-0 win over D.C. United at BBVA Compass Stadium.
The victory was a perfect example of a moment that turns around a team's luck and potentially ignites an entire season. D.C. had the better of the early exchanges but their goalkeeper, Bill Hamid, riskily came out of his net and brought down Mac Kandji. Hamid was sent off, Brad Davis scored the resulting penalty and Houston never looked back.
Wins against rivals Sporting Kansas City, Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and New York followed as the run left the Dynamo well-placed to reach the playoffs entering the final third of the season.
Houston also reached MLS Cup in 2011 despite a seven-game winless streak from May to June that included four losses and three draws. But the team qualified for the playoffs in second place in the Eastern Conference by finding form when it mattered most with four wins and a draw in the last five fixtures of the regular season.
The MLS results chart shows that this year, every team but for the East-leading Impact has experienced at least one spell of three games without a win. That was also the case in 2012 for each club apart from the Chicago Fire. Even the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Galaxy, endured a spring spell where they picked up only one point in six games.
"Rarely does a team go through a season without a stretch like this," said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear. "If you've been there before you kind of understand the ups and downs of an MLS season and that's why this group is still confident that we can pull ourselves out of it. There are still 18 games to go."
Win or lose, Kinnear said, "There's never a different message. It's just: try to remember why you were successful, keep working hard, that's it. It's a good team we have in the locker room, a real good team I think, and every team does go through a little bit of a bad stretch. You've just got to keep positive. It's just creating chances and getting the right looks. Sometimes you need a bit of luck, maybe a bounce or two, maybe you need a ton of chances or just one chance. Guys keep on making runs. We're getting chances, we're just not scoring right now."
Winger Andrew Driver believes the Dynamo just need to find a turning point. "It's a long season and we're not even halfway through yet. We're still sitting in the playoffs. With this league being so close and tight, all it takes is one good run of winning results and you should be fine," he said.
"You're always going to have a run where you're not playing as well. Sometimes you don't play very well and you get the results. Unfortunately for us in the last few weeks we've not got the results but we know the quality we've got in this team. Maybe it'll take a fluky goal, a deflection, an own-goal or something and as soon as that one goes in I think the confidence in the whole team will come back and we can go from there."
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.