Brad Davis returns from international duty ready to lead the Houston Dynamo into the playoffs
Brad Davis's left foot is now as famous in Mexico as Texas after his two assists helped the U.S. to a 3-2 victory in Panama on Tuesday that kept El Tri's hopes of World Cup qualification alive despite their 2-1 loss to Costa Rica.
Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear says that Davis's boosted national and international profile is a well-deserved reward for his captain's hard work and production in MLS.
"I think it's taken for granted at club level—people say, 'Brad's got a nice left foot.' And now everyone's paying attention to it because he has done it on the national stage, so they know what he can do. It's not a surprise, seeing what he did. But for everyone to take notice of it and give him a lot of credit for it is nice to see and I'm sure he appreciates it as well," said Kinnear.
"He got a lot of the ball and I think he made the most of it. He put in some great balls in some dangerous situations and obviously guys attacked the ball well. Graham Zusi with the [equalizing] header is perfect but the ball Brad put in was just teed up nicely for him. I'm really happy for him, he's been working hard to get this chance and take advantage of it, put himself hopefully at the front of the line as far as going to Brazil. It's a good thing to see."
Back in Houston, Davis is turning his thoughts from World Cup to MLS Cup as the Dynamo look to book a place in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Depending on how rivals perform this weekend, that could happen with three points on Sunday against the New York Red Bulls at BBVA Compass Stadium (3 p.m. CT; CSN Houston).
Houston's last home game of the regular season is a key clash, and not only because the standings are so crammed in the East that a win or a loss could alter the picture dramatically ahead of the final weekend. This fixture might also turn out to be a playoff preview given the possibility that the teams could meet again next month.
"This is a great opportunity for us not just to beat New York but to separate ourselves a little bit more from the pack," said Davis. "We know it's going to be a tough game but it's a good game for all of us to step up and get the job done."
The 31-year-old midfielder played with Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke back in 2002 when they were on the books of the MetroStars. Davis remembers Petke as a fierce competitor and believes the current Red Bulls squad reflects their coach's tenacious approach. Kinnear is wary of the team's talent.
"They've got a lot of weapons," he said. "Fabian Espindola I thought had a very good game against New England [a 2-2 draw on October 5, their most recent match], Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill I think has had a good season, and then the other guys in midfield -Lloyd Sam, Jonny Steele, Dax McCarty. It's a good front six they have and defensively they're very strong this year."
Losing to New York last month spurred the Dynamo to embark on one of their best runs of the season. Since that day, Kinnear's men are unbeaten and have collected eleven points from a possible fifteen in MLS.
"Last time we gave up some goals late, the outcome of the game could have been much different when it was 1-1 and that's just how soccer is sometimes, it's the nature of the game. We're not thinking about that game—play how we've been playing and I think the result will take care of itself," said Will Bruin.
The striker is locked with Giles Barnes on eight goals but said that the pair are more concerned with the team's results than which of them will finish the year as club top scorer.
"We don't talk about it—as long as we're scoring goals then that's fine," he said. "We look for each other in the box and it's good to have guys that are balanced out, then you can't try to overplay to one guy. Wins come with goals, so if we can get the three points hopefully it'll work itself out."
With seven assists, Bruin is only one behind Davis, who has led the franchise in that category each year since 2008. Whoever creates chances on Sunday, and whoever finishes them off, one thing is certain: a win would go a long way to reducing stress levels on October 27, the final day of the regular season.
The Dynamo will face D.C. United on the road only 72 hours after meeting Árabe Unido in their last CONCACAF Champions League group game. Houston need to avoid defeat in Panama to progress.
"If we can get three points it will help ourselves a lot coming into the busy week next week with CONCACAF and travel. You don't want to have to rely on the last game of the season to get into the playoffs," said Bruin.
Just another good reason to get the job done in front of a sold-out crowd at BBVA Compass Stadium, and make a great week for Davis even better.
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.