A spell of three wins in ten games had the Dynamo searching for answers. After three successive victories, the team is aiming to continue its strong response on Saturday in a match with big implications for the playoff picture.
Houston travel to face the New England Revolution (6:30 p.m. CT; CSN Plus) for a classic "six-pointer." A Dynamo win puts the side six points ahead of their opponents with four games to play. A defeat and the Revolution go above Houston in the Eastern Conference standings on the goals-scored tiebreaker.
Currently fourth, the Dynamo could be as high as third or as low as fifth by the night's end. The squad's confidence is high after a 1-0 road win over the Philadelphia Union two weeks ago was followed by a 5-1 dismissal of Chivas USA and then Wednesday night's comfortable 2-0 victory over W Connection in the CONCACAF Champions League.
For Kofi Sarkodie, the gritty win at PPL Park had a transformative effect on the team's morale as well as an important impact on the standings.
"I definitely think so. It was a crucial time when we were kind of floating a bit, weren't sure what was going on," the right back said. "It was a big-time win, it pushed us ahead of them and gave us a little bit of separation. Then we came back and got another win so we're moving right now, I think the guys are excited and ready to go for New England so we're pretty focused and hoping to go there and get a good result."
That would set up the Dynamo nicely for a challenging run of three straight MLS fixtures at BBVA Compass Stadium, each against a team currently in the East's top three: the Montreal Impact, Sporting Kansas City and the New York Red Bulls.
But New England will be out for revenge after a 2-1 Dynamo win at Gillette Stadium in July that featured two stunning strikes from the now-departed Adam Moffat.
"They're a smart team, they've got a lot of good players and they know this game is important for them to stay above water in the playoff race as well. If we beat New England we also put those guys behind us a bit, create some distance from them," said Sarkodie.
"They're going to be up for the game, I think for them this is just as important as a playoff match if not more important to keep close and to keep in the race. They're going to be up for it for sure, we've just got to match their intensity and keep playing how we're playing and make sure we produce in the final third."
Before the game the Dynamo will check on how Omar Cummings' body reacted to his first start since the July 6 home win over Philadelphia. Cummings played for 79 minutes against W Connection. That, said head coach Dominic Kinnear, "was probably a little bit more than we expected … It's huge for him, we didn't know what he was going to be able to give us."
Albeit against the group's bottom side, the 31-year-old was a consistent menace down the right wing, looking fast and sharp and causing defenders problems with some intelligent running off the ball.
He worked well with Sarkodie, who was given license to join the forwards in a 4-3-3 formation. Cummings has made brief substitute appearances in the past two MLS games and could add a fresh dimension to the Dynamo's forward play in the coming weeks, provided he can stay healthy.
"I was able to combine with Omar to get in the attack and provide some help and good service out there," said Sarkodie. "Omar's great, I've known Omar for some time and I love the way he plays, I think he brings a completely different element to our team going forward. He was dangerous in the attack putting balls in, beating players—I think he's a great player."
The Dynamo's goals came via a Bobby Boswell header and a thunderbolt from an acute angle by the rookie, Jason Johnson. "The 'keeper made a bad clearance so I just capitalized on it, got my first touch, I saw the defender coming across and I just touched it around him - what you would say a beautiful strike," said the 22-year-old.
He is maturing fast, and a sign of that came when he said afterwards that he was unsatisfied with certain elements of his performance, despite getting on the scoresheet. "I would say I didn't really have a solid game but having a goal on a bad day is always a good thing for a striker," he said.
Like the team as a whole, Johnson seems to be progressing and producing at the best possible time.