You know all the numbers that have defined the Dynamo's season.
2 - shots on goal over the past three games
270 - minutes since the last Dynamo goal
8 - number of times the Dynamo have been shut out this season
88 - number of days since the last win over an MLS opponent
35 - number of goals allowed (most since Houston allowed 40 in 2006)
But through all the ups and downs of this season, there is reason to be optimistic that the Dynamo can regain form and make a late-season push for a playoff spot.
The return of Cameron
What looked to be a promising season for the team and the young midfielder took a turn for the worse on April 24, when Geoff Cameron ruptured his PCL on the slick surface at Toyota Park. The initial prognosis ruled Cameron out for the season, but after surgery revealed that the PCL was only ruptured and not torn, the trainers estimated Cameron could return by season's end. Well, three-and-a-half months later, Cameron is back on the field, and if his performance against New England is any indication, he is ready to contribute a full 90 minutes to the squad and aid a defensive line that has been depleted by injuries and suspensions.
The mastermind at the helm
Head coach Dominic Kinnear has a resume that few can emulate and many would envy. With two MLS Cups to his name, Kinnear is widely regarded as one of the premier coaches in not only Major League Soccer, but in the world. "This is a new situation for Dominic as well," said forward Brian Ching. "A lot of us have been with him, almost from the start. I think he has done a good job of becoming more positive and demanding at the same time. He has handled the situation pretty well."
With limited salary cap room to work with, Kinnear has to had to make do with the team at hand, trying out a variety of lineups to find one that works. Saturday night's pairing of Ching and Brian Mullan up front caused problems for the New England defense, so do not be surprised if Kinnear gives the pairing another chance against Chicago. Regardless, it is safe to say that with Kinnear at the helm, there is no counting out this Dynamo squad until all eight tickets to the playoffs have been punched and Houston is left home wondering what could have been.
Youth has been served
In a season where the Dynamo have seen numerous suspensions and suffered countless injuries, one bright spot has been the emergence of some of Houston's younger players. On a team that has held a veteran core together for years, players such as Mike Chabala (26), Andrew Hainault (24), and Danny Cruz (20) have worked hard to get playing time and eventually crack the starting lineup. Goalkeeper Tally Hall (25) took advantage of an injury to Pat Onstad and carried the Dynamo to the SuperLiga semifinals with some stellar performances.
"I think in the past we have had guys on the field who had played with each other for five-plus years," said Ching. "This year that isn’t the case, and I think the more games we get under our belt, the more positive and the more confident we are going forward."
If Houston's season ends on October 23, the team can head into the off-season knowing that there is a new generation of Dynamo players ready to step up and take the reins for years to come.
A favorable schedule
The magic number floated around MLS circles is 40 points. If you can reach 40 points on the season, your chance of making the playoffs is very good. Last season, Real Salt Lake finished with 40 points, a sub-.500 record, and won MLS Cup. In 2008, New York finished with 39 points, got hot during the playoffs, and made a run before losing to Columbus in the finals. Anything is possible once a team makes the playoffs, and with 20 points through 20 games, the Dynamo need to dig deep for another 20 through their remaining ten matches.
On the bright side, the teams remaining on Houston's schedule have a combined record of 59-79-49. Many of those teams (Toronto, Colorado, San Jose) sit only a few points ahead of the Dynamo in the standings. The opportunity is there for the Dynamo to make a run at a playoff spot. Now it's just up to Kinnear and the players to regain the form that has been the staple of the organization's success in its first four years of existence.