The Houston Dynamo know what is in front of them Sunday evening when they host the LA Galaxy at 6 p.m. at Robertson Stadium.
With the Philadelphia Union losing Thursday night to the New York Red Bulls, Houston is a win away from nabbing a secure spot in the conference semifinals and avoiding a wildcard game.
While winning will grant Houston passage to the conference semifinal round, the real reward could be gaining continued traction heading into the playoffs. The Dynamo believe they know just how important it is to have momentum heading into the postseason.
“You want to go in playing well, and we’ve been on both sides of it,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear. “I always think it’s good to go in with confidence and determination. I think the determination’s always there, but what puts you over the top is being a team with good form, and I think we’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
That confidence is echoed by the players, including veteran Brian Ching.
“It’s extremely important that we’re consistent and playing well going into the playoffs,” said Ching, who told MLSsoccer.com this week that he is 100 percent after missing last Friday’s game due to an adductor strain. “The hotter you are going into the playoffs, the better your chances are — just look at Real Salt Lake a few years ago when they got on a run and won. The winner is likely whoever gets hot near the end of the season.”
Staying hot will not be easy with the league’s best team coming to town to close out the season. Entering the weekend, the Galaxy are seven points clear at the top of the table and boast the second-best away record in the league at 7-4-5. They’re also playing for history, as a win or draw would make them just the fourth team ever to average more than two points per game in the MLS regular season.
“No matter what team Bruce [Arena] has put out there, they’ve done well and gotten results,” Kinnear said. “Defensively, they’re always organized, and they don’t give you much.”
Coming off a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Motagua in CONCACAF Champions League play on Thursday, travel and injuries could play a role in the Galaxy's lineup selection on Sunday. Designated players Robbie Keane (adductor strain), Landon Donovan (quadriceps strain), and David Beckham (back spasms) have battled injuries recently: Keane missed the Motagua game, Donovan came off the bench for the last 20 minutes, and while Beckham went the full 90, he finished the match clutching his back.
While Arena has the option to rest his starters, the Dynamo are not letting any of the talk or speculation about rosters and lineups affect their approach to the match.
“All year, we’ve focused on ourself and doing what we do well,” said goalkeeper Tally Hall. “LA’s going to do what they’re going to do, and to me, that’s not as important as us doing things right.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer