Houston Dynamo are no strangers to ups and downs of MLS season, look to bounce back at home vs. Portland Timbers
Home, sweet home? The Dynamo are counting on it. After three north-east road games in the space of eleven days, four of Houston's next five fixtures are at BBVA Compass Stadium, starting with Sunday's match against the Portland Timbers (2 p.m. CT, TICKETS).
The Dynamo are pleased to be back on Texan terrain, especially after picking up a solitary point on their recent travels. The hat-trick of away matches culminated with Wednesday's 4-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls on a wild night that was chance-laden for both sides.
Houston will seek to end a five-game winless streak by collecting three points on Sunday against a Timbers side that is yet to claim a victory this season. Given each team's frustrations, Dynamo winger Andrew Driver is predicting an urgent and attack-minded afternoon.
"One or two things aren't clicking and aren't going right and there's no better way to sort that out than to go into a game at home against a team that is generally a good team. It's going to be a big game for both teams and it's the kind of game we need to go and win," he said. "We really need to produce this weekend and it's a massive, massive game."
Most of head coach Dominic Kinnear's group know what it is like to wait for a "W". The Dynamo endured seven matches without a win in May and June last year but rebounded to reach the playoffs and come agonizingly close to a third successive MLS Cup appearance. Rough patches are nothing new; equally, this team is no stranger to strong recoveries.
"Unfortunately we've been in this situation before, we've had our backs against the wall, we haven't played our best soccer for some stretches. Every single year you're going to have ups and downs and we've come out of them OK," said captain Brad Davis, who is hoping to be fit for Sunday after missing the past three matches with an ankle injury.
"A great thing Dom said this morning is that when these times come you can hide or you can stand up and go fight. That's what this team's always done and that's what we're going to get back to doing."
Goalkeeper Tally Hall echoed Davis's rallying cry. "We do it as a team and that's going to be priority number one, come together as a team. You look at the history of our team, even the recent history, and you're going to find that situations come up like this and traditionally this team has come together and we've clawed our way out of it. You have to fight, it has to be a battle and this team has done that in the past and I don't see why Sunday would be any different," he said after training on Friday.
"Giving up four goals as a defensive player is unacceptable, even if you're on a team and you win 5-4, as a defensive player in soccer getting scored on four times is never OK. It's going to be changes made that come with effort and concentration and we don't really have a choice, we have to play better," Hall added.
"We're going to be focused on playing smart … At the other end of it, it's got to be keeping shape, preventing guys from picking up the ball in midfield and making passes that lead to goals."
In attack, creating chances does not seem to be a problem: the Dynamo have had more shots on goal than any other MLS team so far this year. Driver acknowledged that the team needs to be more ruthless.
"We haven't been clinical, we haven't scored enough. I think even the game against New York could have been different if [we'd finished a couple of our chances]. We've just got to continue to work hard and maybe need that little bit of luck and we can kick on from it," he said.
Along with capitalizing on key moments up front, Davis believes that sharper execution when the team is defending will make a massive difference. "The little tedious things matter, they matter in a big way because every time something's going wrong for us we're getting punished by it. We need to tighten the screws a bit," he said.
Stopping the basics from looking complicated is easier said than done, of course, especially in the opening weeks of an intriguing season where few teams seem to have settled into a consistent rhythm. Hall summed it up perfectly: "It's always simple things that are not so simple." At least the comforts of home might help.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.