Whenever he had a bad game, or found himself in a funk, Eddie Robinson had one simple solution, one sole strategy for improvement: work even harder.
“I’d run myself into hyperventilation. I’d be damned if anyone was going to work harder than me in a training session,” the former Dynamo defensive stalwart told HoustonDynamo.com.
“You look for opportunities in life and in sports to show your character and the Dynamo have found the perfect opportunity to do that. The one thing you can control as a player is how much effort you put in every day and as long as it’s consistently high you’ll win more games than you lose.”
Houston face the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park on Saturday (6:30 p.m. CT; CSN Plus, Mega TV) with the team only one place outside the playoff spots in the Eastern Conference but without an MLS win since the 3-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders on August 17. Since that victory the team is on a 0-3-1 run, including last Sunday’s defeat to the New York Red Bulls at BBVA Compass Stadium.
A popular player known for his physical approach, Robinson now works for the Dynamo Academy and is the club’s color commentator on English-language local TV broadcasts. He played more than 100 times for Houston and won two MLS Cups, in 2006 and 2007, as well as a pair of championships with the San Jose Earthquakes.
Robinson believes that head coach Dominic Kinnear’s strategy will be to keep faith in his players and to do his best to ensure spirits remain as high as possible during these testing and unusual times for a group that is used to, and expects, success.
“Dom’s always been a person who likes guys to play through it, let them know he’s got their support. Dom said we just have to go back and work hard. It sounds cliched but [two qualities] of the Dynamo have always been attitude and work rate,” he said.
“Dom Kinnear has always created a fun and happy environment in the locker room. Even when things aren’t going perfectly it is still a fun place to be. He’s very positive, very encouraging and I have no doubt that he’s doing that now.”
Without sugar-coating the challenges ahead or ignoring the deficiencies of recent performances—denial’s not his style—Robinson still believes there is reason for optimism. “Is it time to sound the alarm? I don’t think so,” he said. “With seven games left, three or four wins and they’re probably going to be in the playoffs … If these guys can figure it out and get back to their best they’re really hard to beat.”
As the Dynamo proved last year, when they reached MLS Cup after finishing in the fifth and last postseason berth, it’s still possible to plot a path to the grand final from a lower seeding, even though it requires playing an extra fixture and makes hosting the match unlikely.
Houston’s destiny is in their own hands—or at least their feet—because five of the team’s concluding seven MLS fixtures are against the clubs directly in front of them, starting Saturday.
The team caught a break last weekend when immediate rivals the New England Revolution and Chicago Fire lost, but there is now a gap between the top three sides in the East and the rest. Still, it’s tight even at this late stage, with eight of the ten clubs believing they can make the playoffs.
“If you look at both conferences, you don’t know what five are going to get in,” said striker Will Bruin. “The top separated themselves a little bit in both conferences but it’s a dogfight, it always is every year, the scheduling always comes down to the last handful of games, you’re always playing conference teams that are right next to you.”
Bruin was busy against New York but had an off-day in front of goal. “It’s growing pains … it’s part of learning, it’s character building,” the 23-year-old said. “It’s over with, I’ve got to forget about it, say ‘you know what, there’s nothing I can do to change it but I can take the next [chance] better’.”
His strategy: look forward and focus on what could be, not what was. “It’s tough, this league, anybody can beat anybody on any given day. After having a week like we did, I think it’s going to show some character how we respond,” he said.
“Long week, guys logged lots of minutes, lots of travel, bad results, injuries, guys away, just a rough week. We’ve got to forget about it. Some teams helped us out so we’re still all right but we’ve got to quit hurting ourselves. Another perfect opportunity comes this weekend in Philadelphia and it’s time that we step up, quit feeling sorry for ourselves and get a result.”
As Robinson said, at this point in the season it’s about the players putting in the work and proving their character.
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.