One-two punch of Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia in the midfield key for Houston Dynamo
Goals have been more scarce this year and one reason is that it has been hard for head coach Dominic Kinnear to get the duo on the field at the same time.
García was suspended for last Saturday's 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union and both he and Davis have missed significant time through international duty and injury. Nor has it helped that winger Andrew Driver has lately battled a calf strain.
Rhythm matters as much to soccer teams as to musicians. Kinnear is hoping that Boniek and Davis can put a consistent run of games together, starting with Saturday's visit of Chivas USA to BBVA Compass Stadium (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS). "That'd be nice," he said. "It's always been a combination of him, Brad and Andrew, always one of them missing, at times two and sometimes three. To have those guys healthy and available obviously is important for us."
Garcia has started only 16 of the Dynamo's 28 MLS games this year. After signing from CD Olimpia in June last year, the Honduran international started twelve MLS games in a row. This season his longest streak is six games, back in April and May. He scored four goals in 2012 but is yet to find the net this year.
As for Davis, he made 14 successive starts last year but in 2013 his best run is five games. Overall he has started 19 times in MLS this term. The team has lined up with both players only 12 times so far—a modest 43% of its MLS fixtures. With neither starting, the Dynamo's record is 1-3-1. With both, it's 5-4-3.
Ricardo Clark is another vital cog in the midfield machine. He played a mere 37 minutes in the four games prior to the Union win and Houston lost three and drew one. Davis and Clark combined for the game's solitary goal off a set-piece at PPL Park, and Kinnear praised the 30-year-old's overall contribution.
"We know how important he is to the team, I think he showed that during the game, winning tackles. Obviously the goal stands out but I think his play between the penalty boxes was important for us, especially making tackles," he said.
Though with a reputation as primarily defensive, the nine-season MLS veteran is enjoying his best offensive campaign in American soccer, with three goals and three assists on the year. His 39 shots rank him third on the team behind Giles Barnes and Will Bruin.
"We want to be dangerous in all aspects, set-pieces, run of play—nobody's going to argue how a goal comes, we just want to get goals. I was thankfully in the right place at the right time to take advantage of it," said Clark. "I just want to contribute as much as I can."
With only four MLS games left at BBVA Compass Stadium, every match will have a significant impact on the standings. The Dynamo moved up to fourth place in the Eastern Conference last weekend but rivals are breathing down their necks.
"You look at the group—us, Philadelphia, Chicago, New England, even Columbus—that's a group of five right now that are fighting for two places," said Kinnear. "We obviously want to fight for something further up, we feel we're a little bit closer than some teams are, but everyone's kind of playing each other so there's a lot of excitement going on, it adds to the pressure and brings the best out in players."
Chivas are bottom of the Western Conference, with the third-worst record in MLS, so the Dynamo will be expected to claim three points on Saturday.
But the visitors have perked up lately, with two wins and two draws in their past five matches, including a stand-out victory over the New York Red Bulls. So Kinnear is wary of Chivas' banana-skin potential.
"They're actually playing pretty well right now I think, they had a good game against Portland, made a couple of good additions to the team this summer. It's not going to be an easy one so we have to understand that. The work that we applied to the game in Philadelphia has to carry over to the game on Saturday if we want to get anything out of it," he said.
Clark echoes that view. "Every game is going to be very important moving forward. It's real tight in the standings," he said. "We need to bring the same mentality we brought against Philadelphia, grinding out games if we have to, doing whatever we have to do to win."
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.