No Landon Donovan or Omar Gonzalez, but Robbie Keane threat looms large for Houston Dynamo against LA Galaxy

Two-time MLS Cup foes face off on Saturday minus some big names but not without a big-game feel

Though Robbie Keane joined the Los Angeles Galaxy from Tottenham Hotspur back in 2011, he has yet to face the Houston Dynamo in the regular season. That should change on Saturday night as the Dynamo conclude a three-game homestand with the Galaxy’s visit to BBVA Compass Stadium (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS).

Keane is Ireland’s record goalscorer and most-capped player. He made his professional debut in England as a 17-year-old back in 1997, and will be 34 in July. But there is still plenty of life in his legs and he remains one of the most nimble and feared strikers in the league, with five goals in seven starts so far this campaign.

He scored 16 times in each of the past two regular seasons. Factor in his eleven assists from 2013 and he was closely involved in 27 goals in only 23 appearances.

Keane has met the Dynamo twice in MLS Cup, scoring a penalty deep in stoppage-time in 2012. He is expected to start on Saturday night for Bruce Arena’s men, who have lost their past three regular-season games against Houston and are missing two key players. Like Dynamo captain Brad Davis, attacker Landon Donovan and defender Omar Gonzalez are on the U.S. World Cup provisional roster and at camp in California.

Dynamo defender Corey Ashe is looking forward to the challenge of playing against Keane and his teammates at a Western Conference club that has made the postseason in each of the past five years. “They’ve been a successful organization for a while. Games like this are always great, it’s always great to play the Western opponents to see how you match up,” he said.

“It seems like the West is always flying high, it’s always a good measure. This game against LA, although they don’t have two big players they’re still a good team and it’s going to be a tough test.”

Last Sunday the Dynamo fell behind 2-0 early to another Western team, Real Salt Lake, pulled a goal back but then saw Servando Carrasco ejected for a rash tackle. Despite the setback of seeing a penalty saved, Houston produced a spirited second-half performance before the visitors pulled clear with two late goals to claim a 5-2 victory.

“It’s kind of like New York [last month] all over again where we were our worst enemy. So we’ve moved on, we have another tough stretch coming up with LA and then two road games. The good thing is, you get back on the field, you win and everybody else forgets about the past week. Shake the cobwebs, get back out there and try and get the W,” said Ashe.

Winger Andrew Driver agrees. “We got beaten but there were signs we could very well have got something out of that game so the mood’s good,” he said. “You want to forget about defeat pretty early and the best way to do that is by winning a game. LA is one of the bigger teams in the league and these are the games you want to play.”

Saturday’s match is Boniek García’s last before he joins up with the Honduras World Cup squad, as well as Houston’s last in East Downtown until the visit of Sporting Kansas City on June 6. 

Midfielder Carrasco is suspended as a result of his red card. But Will Bruin was not named on Friday’s official injury report, raising hopes that the team’s leading scorer will be fit to face LA after he missed the RSL encounter through injury. Mark Sherrod impressed at short notice in Bruin’s absence last Sunday.

The rookie scored twice in his first MLS start and his head coach admired his all-around play. “I was really happy for him, he put himself about, put himself in good positions, led the line well, scored a couple of good goals and created some problems,” Dominic Kinnear said.

“He’s done well in practice so it always puts him available for selection and obviously you’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity when it comes, so with the injuries that we’ve been experiencing, it’s going to get some guys some time. 

“As I’ve said before, they get to the locker room and find out there’s an opportunity for them. So the day before practice I said: ‘hey, there’s a chance you may be starting tomorrow so be ready’, and he took those words to heart and performed very well.”

The 23-year-old University of Memphis product was selected in the second round of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft by the Dynamo and has already made seven appearances, with his enthusiasm evident in training as well as in front of the cameras and crowds. His first goal, a timely run to meet a Brad Davis corner with a low volley, was followed by an ecstatic celebration which showed exactly how much the moment meant to him.

“You’d be hard pressed to find a guy who wasn’t happy for him in the locker room, he works hard, he goes about his business the right way, he took his goals well and obviously you look back and the celebration was real emotion which was good to see,” said Kinnear.

“He’s very mobile, he’s good in the air, he puts himself around, very honest, and a couple of guys have said he strikes the ball real well. I think the second goal showed that. He goes about his business, keeps his head down and is trying to learn from these guys. He’s doing well.”

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.