With less than two months left in the regular season, the Houston Dynamo are looking to close out their season in strong fashion and return to the playoffs after missing out last year. Currently in third place in the Eastern Conference, here are three things to watch for heading into the final two months of the season:
1. Road challenges
Houston’s performance on the road this season has been well-documented. The Dynamo have failed to win away from Robertson Stadium but have been hard to beat, compiling a 0-4-8 record on the road.
While all the draws have helped the Dynamo stay within striking distance in the East, with five of their last eight matches on the road Houston will likely need to break through with an away win to stay in the top three of the Eastern Conference.
“We haven’t gotten a win on the road, and I think this is a perfect place to start with our trip to Vancouver,” midfielder Brad Davis said of the club’s weekend visit to Empire Field. “We know there are going to be difficult games on the road, but we have to take it step by step, because we’ve put ourselves in a good position, and now we have to stay there.”
2. Conference battles
With the Eastern playoff race growing increasingly tight, the best way to securing a playoff spot is by winning the head-to-head battles and finishing in the top three.
Houston has just three games left against conference foes, with two coming against teams that are currently ahead of the Dynamo: the first-place Columbus Crew and second-place Sporting Kansas City. The Dynamo will travel to meet those clubs Sept. 10 and Sept. 14 in back-to-back games that will go a long way in deciding the club's finish in the playoff standings.
“It’s going to be a tough stretch, and we’ll need everyone,” left back Corey Ashe said. “If you look at the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, we all know it’s going to be tight. But we’re going in with our normal mindset, which is winning one game at a time.”
3. Facing MLS' best
Of Houston’s final eight matches, five come against teams that have among the best overall records in MLS, including road games at Sporting Kansas City (No. 2 in East), Columbus (No. 1 in East), FC Dallas (No. 3 in West), and a regular-season home finale against the LA Galaxy (No. 1 in West).
With a 2-5-7 record against teams currently in the playoffs, Houston will have to reverse its fortunes against the cream of the league’s crop to emerge with a postseason berth. To boost the team for this stretch run, Houston signed 24-year-old Brazilian midfielder Luiz Camargo, who trained on Tuesday for the first time after last playing for Clube Paraná back on July 9.
“He looked a little leggy,” head coach Dominic Kinnear said of his new acquisition. “It could be the travel, and he hasn’t played for a while. He’s good on the ball, but he needs a little more off the ball.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.