Houston Dynamo recognize importance of every point as season winds down
Kofi Sarkodie believes that having a roster full of veterans with plenty of postseason experience can help the Dynamo in key matches such as Sunday's home game against the New York Red Bulls.
"I would think so. Guys that have played in similar situations, in a lot of these kind of matches, or have international experience, they know how to adjust, how to take control of the tempo," the right back told HoustonDynamo.com.
Sunday's match at BBVA Compass Stadium (4 p.m. CT; TICKETS) is one of several big tests coming up for the Dynamo as they look to book a play-off place in the Eastern Conference for the third successive year.
"Especially when you're playing your conference rivals, every game counts. So you've got to make sure you're coming with the right mentality. Whether it be New York, Montreal, Philadelphia, they're all at this point key matches," said Sarkodie.
Only ten points separate joint-leaders Red Bulls, Sporting Kansas City and Montreal Impact from the Columbus Crew down in eighth. And plenty of fixtures among the top clubs between now and the end of the season promises to maintain the logjam. Since the New England Revolution meet the Impact on Sunday, at least one of the Dynamo's playoff rivals is guaranteed not to pick up a win.
"If you look at our schedule we play a lot of teams above us and the best way to catch them is to beat them head-to-head," said head coach Dominic Kinnear.
"There's no easy games. Chivas beat New York two weeks ago. And that's considered a top-table team versus a lower-table team. You look at the scores, there's not too many runaways, there's a couple every now and again but every game is close. It's a fine line between winning and losing and we experienced that on Wednesday."
One of the bright spots from the 2-0 defeat to Columbus was the first half performance of Jason Johnson. The rookie was lively down the right wing and played for 75 minutes in his second MLS start. The first also came at Crew Stadium in the 1-1 tie on June 1.
The 22-year-old Jamaican believes he still has plenty to learn, such as improving his composure in front of goal, but that he is maturing fast under the guidance of the coaching staff. "Playing the other day showed how much I've grown since I've been here. Personally I think I've made some gains. I'm trying hard to get my first professional goal and help the team win, that's what I'm here to do," he told HoustonDynamo.com.
"I think it's mental strength, toughness, confidence and knowing from experience what to do in [shooting] situations. I'm still working, I know I'm going to keep getting chances so it's just knowing what to do at the right moment."
The odds are that someone will find the net on Sunday: in 18 matches all-time between the clubs there has only been one goalless draw. While the Dynamo have never won on the road against New York, they have also never lost at home to them in the regular season.
Both sides are injury-struck. Corey Ashe, Eric Brunner and Andrew Driver are definitely sidelined for Houston, with Omar Cummings, Ricardo Clark and Tyler Deric doubtful. Boniek García and Jermaine Taylor are unavailable after playing for their countries on Friday night, and Brad Davis was called in at the last minute by Jurgen Klinsmann for the United States' World Cup qualifying match against Mexico.
The visitors are missing Tim Cahill, Connor Lade and Roy Miller, among others. But one of the greatest players of his generation, Thierry Henry, is available; and when he is on the field New York are sure to carry a significant threat in attack. Last Saturday the 36-year-old came off the bench as they beat the Eastern Conference's bottom club, D.C. United, 2-1 at Red Bull Arena.
"I think they have a pretty good squad, they've added some good players with Bradley Wright-Philips and Lloyd Sam now has found some form," said Kinnear. I think the addition of Phillips gives them pace up top and obviously Fabian Espindola's a fighter—and then Thierry Henry, he could be the wild card for them."
Sarkodie is likely to be one of the Dynamo defenders tasked with keeping a careful eye on Henry. "He's crafty, he's smart, New York's a smart team, they work really well and their movement's really good. So we've got to make sure that [defensively we hold] a good line and be aggressive in the tackle," he said.
"I think we just have to come out with an aggressive mentality. Eight games left so we've got to make sure every game counts and we put in our best effort."
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.