Clint Dempsey or not, Saturday's match against Seattle Sounders is a big one for Houston Dynamo
National attention will be on BBVA Compass Stadium this Saturday with Clint Dempsey in line for his first start since his return to MLS, but Dominic Kinnear is setting the hype to one side and focusing on the need for three points as the Dynamo's season enters the final third.
Houston are looking to rebound against the Seattle Sounders (8 p.m. CT; TICKETS) after an unlucky 1-0 reverse at Real Salt Lake last Saturday that interrupted a run of three wins and a draw in the Dynamo's past four MLS fixtures.
The U.S. captain joined the Sounders from England's Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month and made his debut off the bench in a 2-1 win over Toronto FC last Saturday. While not fully fit, the Nacogdoches native could play from the first kick at BBVA Compass Stadium because another forward, Eddie Johnson, is suspended.
"Obviously he's a good player, we've got to keep an eye on him. But for me it's a game, it's three points, we're on a good roll. A little bump in the road at Salt Lake—it's time to get back winning games," said Kinnear, the Dynamo head coach. "It's important that we try to continue that good run of results besides the Salt Lake one and hopefully catch and pass some teams."
The Dynamo currently occupy the fifth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the Chicago Fire. But Kinnear's side is only six points behind leaders Sporting Kansas City and has two games in hand. After Seattle's visit the Dynamo will have eleven regular-season MLS fixtures remaining.
"It doesn't matter if it's May, June, July or August, every game is big because it tells us a little bit about the table's story as the year goes on," said Kinnear. "The guys are generally focused for every weekend. Let's hope we can make a late-season push. We're right there, we're in the spot."
The Dynamo have a well-earned reputation for coming on strong in the closing stages of the season. As Kinnear points out, that experience is a source of confidence but offers no guarantees: "It's true but you can only take on that so much. You can't say 'we've done it before so we're going to do it again'. Do the guys know how to approach it? Absolutely."
Andrew Driver is on the mend after missing the past two games with Achilles tendonitis and looking forward to the weekend. "It's exciting with Dempsey coming," the winger said. " We've started to play a lot better in the last few weeks as well so we're going into it with a lot of confidence."
Now 30 years old, Dempsey scored seven goals for Tottenham last season in 29 Premier League matches. The year before, with Fulham, he claimed an outstanding 17 goals in 37 league games.
"He's one of those players that seems to get better and better as the years go on. The amount of goals he's scored from midfield areas is phenomenal. He obviously had a lot of dedication in the first place and has worked on his game all the way through. And he's one of those players as a professional you look up to," said Driver.
Dempsey made his name at the New England Revolution. Until last Saturday, his most recent appearance in MLS was against the Dynamo. He came off the substitutes' bench in the 2006 MLS Cup final but to no avail as Houston beat the Revolution in a penalty shoot-out to claim the first of back-to-back championships.
"He's obviously realized that the league's going in the right direction," said Driver. A win over Seattle would indicate that the Dynamo are also heading along the right path as the campaign moves closer to its climax.
The 25-year-old views Saturday's clash as a chance for the Dynamo to show their true colors against a club that has been tipped to challenge for MLS Cup. "We feel as a team we should be pushing up to the top of the league," said Driver.
"Winners win when they need to. We started the season on fire and had a real tough spot for a while but we need to get positive, get playing and I think when we have a bit of fight in us we are a very hard team to play against. We've gone on the road a few times and really scrapped and got some good results and that's what we need to get in every game from now until the end of the 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 and SI.com.