Corey Ashe and Will Bruin are desperate to sign off with a win on Sunday as the Dynamo face the New York Red Bulls. Both players were named to the U.S. national team's Gold Cup roster so it may be their last MLS game for a month.
Their inclusion is bittersweet news for Dominic Kinnear, who is delighted for the pair but will have to cope without key men during an important stretch of fixtures.
"To see guys get rewarded by national team call-ups is always a joy. Big thanks to the locker room for pushing these guys along and most importantly they deserve it for what they're trying to do individually," said the Dynamo head coach.
"You're happy for them, at the same time you're a little bit sad they're going away because it does make your job tougher. We've been through it before, that's the way it goes when you have a good team with good individuals...[but] it gives other guys opportunities."
Both teams at Red Bull Arena are looking to bounce back after a difficult few weeks (1pm kick-off, ESPN2/ESPNDeportes). The Dynamo are bidding to end a six-game MLS winless streak that has seen the team score only twice. The Red Bulls have lost their past three matches in all competitions, conceding nine goals in the process. Dynamo captain Brad Davis is doubtful with a hamstring injury picked up in training on Tuesday. A hamstring problem kept Boniek Garcia out of last Saturday's goalless draw at home to Toronto FC but he could return against Mike Petke's team.
The Dynamo have slipped to fifth in the Eastern Conference standings and have never beaten New York on the road, but victory would see them leap-frog their opponents and potentially rise into second, depending on other results.
"It's hard to beat them at home, especially with the talent they have," said Ashe. "I think we just go there and we have to start strong. If we start the way we did against Montreal we will get beaten. So if we can go out there with the right mentality, kind of weather the storm, I think we'll be fine...It's time to pick up points."
Thierry Henry is the league's highest-profile international star and the 35-year-old has been effective this year, with six goals in 13 starts - some of them spectacular strikes. His movement across the front line makes the Frenchman hard to track and Ashe knows the Dynamo will have to be wary.
"I think it just puts a bigger emphasis on keeping possession. They are a really good counterattacking team, Henry looks for the break, but that can't change the way we're going to approach it," he said. "We'll still have myself and Kofi [Sarkodie] going forward, getting crosses in the box and being dangerous. It just means that when one outside back goes, the other one has to slide over and cover for the two center backs."
Ashe's delight at his call-up from Jurgen Klinsmann was evident when he spoke with reporters on Friday. The 27-year-old left back was added to the U.S. roster for last month's friendly with Belgium but had to pull out because of injury.
"I had the opportunity to go to the Belgium game and I got hurt so I was a little disappointed but I'm just happy that I'm getting a second chance," he said.
"It feels good, I feel rewarded, I feel like he hadn't forgotten about me and that he's confident I can bring something to the team, I'm looking forward to the opportunity, he's given me a chance to show what I can do. We would love to win the Gold Cup, that's the first task at hand, but I just want to go there have fun, enjoy it and get my first cap."
The U.S. players meet up on Monday. The team will play a warm-up against Guatemala in San Diego on July 5 and its first group game against Belize at JELD-WEN Field four days later. The final is on July 28. So if Klinsmann's side goes all the way, Ashe and Bruin could miss MLS fixtures against the Philadelphia Union, New England Revolution and Chicago Fire, plus the BBVA Compass Dynamo Charities Cup match against Stoke City on July 24.
Klinsmann picked a relatively young and inexperienced roster but Ashe and the Union's Jack McInerney are the only two uncapped players. Bruin made his debut in the draw with Canada at BBVA Compass Stadium in January.
"It was good to get in the environment, meet the guys, the coaching staff, see how everything gets run. So now I'm going to be more comfortable going into this round and I think I had a very decent showing in the January camp so hopefully I can build off that and get some confidence going," said Bruin.
The 23-year-old top-scored for Houston last year with 16 goals. He has four so far this season but has not scored since a double against D.C. United on May 8. So he was unsure whether he would get the call from Klinsmann this week. "I just told myself it was a 50-50 chance and not to get too worked up about it and just let it play out. I can't control what he does," the striker said.
Klinsmann's show of faith despite Bruin's barren run has provided him with a dose of self-belief ahead of the New York clash. "It's big for the standings in the East, indications of where we're going to be going into July. As a forward you always play on confidence, it's either going really good or it's going really bad," he said.
"Lately I haven't been able to find the net but that's something that every forward goes through and that's something that you've just got to grind through and once that first one goes in hopefully there'll be more to follow.
"Sometimes you mishit it and it goes in, sometimes you have the best shot in the world and the goalie makes a great save. It's definitely good to know that even though I'm kind of in a drought that I've still been getting looked at to go to this Gold Cup and hopefully that can be the thing that turns it around and I'll be putting balls in the back of the net."
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian and SI.com.