One of the most in-form strikers in MLS stands between the Dynamo and a fourth successive win as the Chicago Fire visit BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday night.
Captain Brad Davis is fit again and the team’s self-belief has been bolstered by two MLS victories and Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat of English Premier League club Stoke City in the BBVA Compass Dynamo Charities Cup.
To continue the good run on Saturday (8 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Network), Houston will look to achieve something few teams have managed lately: subdue Mike Magee.
The Chicago native was acquired by the Fire from the Los Angeles Galaxy on May 25th in exchange for the negotiating rights for Robbie Rogers. Since, he's scored six times in eight MLS starts for Frank Klopas' side.
Reputed for being prolific in the playoffs, Magee has been a threat since the start of the year and the 28-year-old's tally of 12 on the season puts him second behind Camilo in the scoring charts. And only the Vancouver Whitecaps player has taken more shots in MLS this year.
Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear says that Magee and Chris Rolfe, who scored twice in a 4-1 win over D.C. United last Saturday, are a potent combination. “Chris Rolfe’s goals last week, his runs off the ball, were fantastic. Mike Magee’s given them a shot of confidence, he brings a good attitude, he’s a finisher, he doesn’t need a lot of chances to get his goal.
“I think the players have gotten a boost of energy and confidence because of that. Win or lose, he seems to be the one that’s talking and saying the correct things,” said Kinnear.
“He’s not Dominic Oduro fast or Cam Weaver big and strong but he finds his way and he’s a smart player and sometimes when guys are a step ahead that’s the most dangerous thing.”
Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall says the defense needs to keep a close eye on Chicago’s duo. “It seems like they kind of feed off each other. You look at the runs they make, they’re smart runners, they know dangerous spots to put themselves in so we have to stay organized and tight in the back,” he said.
The teams have already met at BBVA Compass Stadium this season, Houston winning 2-1 on April 14. Will Bruin opened the scoring with a header but Rolfe quickly equalized. Davis grabbed an 81st-minute winner with a cross that floated untouched into the net as Houston set a new MLS-record home unbeaten streak.
After the 2-1 win over the New England Revolution two weeks ago, this is another fixture giving the Dynamo the opportunity to keep a playoff rival at arm's length. Houston are fifth in the Eastern Conference with 29 points from 19 matches, five points above the seventh-placed Fire.
Last Saturday was a relatively good day for Kinnear's side even without playing. Sporting Kansas City beat Real Salt Lake to extend their Eastern lead, but the three teams immediately above the Dynamo only tied. If results go in the orange's favor on Saturday they can move level on points with the second-placed Montreal Impact.
After missing the past three MLS fixtures with a hamstring injury, Davis is delighted to be available for selection again. “It was tough but it’s great to be back out here, great to get back in the locker room before a game, the anticipation and all that stuff on gameday. All those little things, you really realize when you’re out for a period of time how much you can really miss it,” he said.
An outing against Stoke as a second-half substitute helped Davis regain match fitness. “It was good, I only had a couple of trainings under my belt to do that but you can never [simulate] a game situation, you have to get out in the games, see how you feel. It was a good 20-25 minutes of getting out there, running with the guys again,” he said.
As he watched from the sidelines, Davis was not surprised that his team-mates rediscovered their scoring touch after a couple of weeks when the goals refused to flow. “We went through a drought without scoring goals and all of a sudden, like we’d talked about, once we find the back of the net confidence always goes up,” he said.
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.