Houston Dynamo (6-14-5) at D.C. United (5-17-3)
6:30 p.m. CT
RFK Stadium, Washington D.C.
All-time record: Houston leads the all-time series 5-3-1
Game Guide: downloadable PDF
KHOU 11.2 (6:15 p.m. pregame)
TV Informa (6 p.m. pregame)
SportsTalk 790 (5:45 p.m. pregame)
La Ranchera 850 (6 p.m. pregame)
If MLS operated under the promotion/relegation system, this match would be a classic – two last-place teams hoping to climb over one other to escape the bottom end of the standings. As it is, both of these proud clubs have had to turn their focus toward next season, and the final month of this campaign represents a proving ground for that process.
Both Houston and D.C. are also fresh off last-minute, gut-punch defeats that encapsulate many of their 2010 failings. Last weekend, United let the league-leading LA Galaxy off the hook as Landon Donovan scored two goals in the final 10 minutes to avert a massive upset at The Home Depot Center. The Dynamo, meanwhile, are still smarting from Wednesday night’s wild affair in Kansas City, a match they led 3-1 at halftime but lost 4-3 after Josh Wolff scored the winner six minutes into injury time. That came on the heels of a stoppage-time loss at home to Toronto last Saturday.
United has been locked in the league basement for months, but there’s been improvement in performances and morale since Ben Olsen took the reins as interim head coach. He and his players came within minutes of stunning the mighty Galaxy in LA last Saturday, only to be undone by the same hobgoblins that have dragged them down repeatedly this season: defensive gaffes and lack of composure at pivotal moments.
It is no surprise that situational awareness has been a major talking point in training this week.
“That’s been something that we’ve struggled with all season long,” said assistant coach Kris Kelderman this week. “I think that’s pretty obvious. We felt very good about the performance, the effort from everybody for the first 80 minutes. Then we make some mental breakdowns which can’t occur if you’re going to win the game, especially against the top team in the league at their place.”
Amazingly, the Black-and-Red are only five points behind Houston, and a win this weekend would help D.C. achieve its goal of escaping last place in the overall league standings by season’s end.
Long feared and respected for their consistency, tenacity, and ruggedness, the Dynamo have become very un-Dynamo lately. The two-time MLS Cup champions have surrendered 40 goals to date this season, second-most in the league, and nearly a quarter of those have been leaked in the final 15 minutes of their matches.
That sloppiness has played a major role in their slow fade to the bottom of the standings. This week, head coach Dominic Kinnear acknowledged the likelihood that his team will miss the playoffs for the first time since their move from San Jose in 2005 – or to go back even further, since the then-Earthquakes were shut out of the postseason in 2000.
Wednesday’s collapse in Kansas City has acutely aggravated that disappointment.
“We still had an outside chance,” said Kinnear afterwards. “I know we don’t now.”
Heroes & villains
Dominic Oduro & Cam Weaver vs. Dejan Jakovic & Julius James: With Brian Ching hampered by knee trouble, Kinnear paired Oduro’s speed with Weaver’s size up top against KC, and the combo tormented the Wizards defense early on. United’s central defenders will have to shackle the duo if the home side is to win on Saturday.
Stat that makes you go "Hmm..."
United and the Dynamo lead the league in a lamentable category: goals allowed in the final 15 minutes.