It's become routine for teams visiting BBVA Compass Stadium to sit back, try to absorb pressure and look to hit the Dynamo on the break. But Brad Davis is expecting the Columbus Crew to adopt an aggressive approach in Houston on Saturday night (8 p.m. CT; TICKETS).
For one thing, the Crew are smarting after two successive defeats thanks to stoppage-time goals. And the Dynamo are seven points ahead of Saturday's opponents in the Eastern Conference, so Columbus are desperate to make up ground and get back in the chase for a play-off place.
Robert Warzycha's side has attacking talent in Jairo Arrieta, Federico Higuain and former Dynamo forward Dominic Oduro, who has nine MLS goals this season. So the Dynamo captain is expecting a tough night and wants Houston to subdue the Crew by dominating the match from the first kick.
"They've always given us a good game here at home. For us it's really time to start getting going. They're definitely going to come and press, you see a guy like Dominic Oduro, he's scoring goals. Whenever you come back to an old team you always want to show well, try and get that goal," said Davis.
"It's going to be tough but if we get out right away – the longer we allow teams to hang around down here, I think they start gaining in confidence. If we can get on top of a team and be in the lead, teams are just ready to get out of here. They're extremely excited to get away with a point. So for us we really need to start getting things going, putting teams on their heels right at the bat."
Davis believes that a strong beginning will create the conditions for a comfortable end to the 90 minutes. "I'd love to see us finish a game just strong, up a few goals, being confident and just finish a game off in a good positive way," he said.
The midfielder knows that continuing the club's formidable home record will be critical as the Dynamo seek to impress down the stretch, just as they have in recent years. "We have 14 games left and we're sitting tied for fifth place. We're in an all-right position but we can't continue to say that for too long. Especially at home we really need to start getting things going and getting more points," said Davis.
Last year's Dynamo top scorer, Will Bruin, returned this week from the Gold Cup and gives head coach Dominic Kinnear another option up front. Giles Barnes and Cam Weaver partnered in last Saturday's 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire at BBVA Compass Stadium and Weaver scored his first goal of the season.
Brian Ching and Omar Cummings are questionable for Saturday with minor adductor strains. But rookie Jason Johnson has looked lively off the substitutes' bench and Calen Carr is moving closer to full fitness after his serious knee injury last December.
It all adds up to potentially one of the deepest roster of forwards that Davis has seen since the Dynamo's birth in 2006. "That spot is in the past one thing we've lacked and all of a sudden we have quite a few guys who are doing well and competing for that spot. That's good, it's a healthy rivalry to have. Hopefully we can really get some guys going," he said.
"I know Cam was very happy and we were very happy for Cam, he works his tail off, he really does. And he's been battling some injuries. So for him to get the time, put in the effort he did and get his goal, hopefully that gives him confidence and we'll see where we go from there. It is a healthy competition. It can be hard at times but that's what you want as an athlete, you want good competition and I know each guy wants to earn his own spot."
Davis returned from injury against Chicago for his 300th MLS appearance as an early substitute for Andrew Driver, who picked up an Achilles problem that will see him miss the Columbus test. It's a rare absence for the winger, who was brought in from Scottish club Hearts during the off-season with no guarantees of a starting place but has quickly made himself ubiquitous.
"Talking to him before he came in here, we said 'look, with Brad and Boniek [Garcia] we can't promise you anything'," said Kinnear. Driver did not feature in the opening-day win over D.C. United but has been involved in every MLS game since, starting 17 of 19 matches and coming off the bench twice. "So to not have him on the field at all for the 90 minutes here is going to be strange but he's the next guy in the line of many guys that's been that way," said Kinnear.
Still, Kinnear is happy that after a proliferation of injuries and absences due to international duty, the squad looks close to full strength in time for a run of six fixtures in 24 days. "We know August is going to be a tough month with the amount of games we have, the travel we have, so to have all of those guys here is a big plus," he said.
The past four matches between the clubs were draws and Houston have not beaten Columbus since 2008. So the Dynamo are certainly due a win against the Crew that would start off August in style.
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.