With the Dynamo set to begin a crucial three-game homestand beginning Friday against the Montreal Impact (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS), memories of the 2012 season have emerged. Last season, the Dynamo finished their season with the same sequence of games—three straight at home before the season finale on the road. Houston also staged three consecutive home games last July, with two of three opponents—Sporting Kansas City and Montreal—on the docket for the upcoming home games.
The Dynamo were outstanding over both three-game home spells. The first, between July 15-21, included a 4-0 win over 10-man D.C. United, a 2-1 victory over Sporting Kansas City (which also lost a player to a red card) and a 3-0 triumph over the Montreal Impact, four weeks after the Quebec side dealt Houston a 4-2 defeat on their first trip to Stade Saputo. The Dynamo outscored the three opponents 9-1, and would carry the momentum to Toronto for a 2-0 win before dispatching the New York Red Bulls at home, 2-0, to claim first place.
The circumstances of the second span of three straight home games were different. The Dynamo returned home after a 3-1 defeat at Philadelphia on Sept. 23, holding the fifth and final playoff spot in the East but only a point above sixth place Columbus. The Dynamo would take seven points from the final three home games—two wins and a draw—completing the fourth undefeated home schedule in MLS history. But the manner of the results was decidedly different than the lopsided wins in July.
In the first of the three late-season home games, the Dynamo and New England Revolution played through a torrential rainstorm and were scoreless for 76 minutes until Ricardo Clark eased the tension with the breakthrough goal on a cleverly-angled touch from the edge of the six-yard box. The scoring play involved all three original Dynamo players—Brian Ching played to Brad Davis, who found Clark with a pass through the penalty area—and resulted in Clark’s first goal since returning to Houston. Boniek García added an insurance goal in stoppage time to make the 2-0 score line look more comfortable that it may have been.
The next home game was against the Impact on Oct. 6, almost exactly one year before this Friday's match. The Impact entered Houston on the brink of elimination from playoff contention after a resolute inaugural season. Only a win would keep Montreal’s dim playoff hopes alive. Will Bruin scored a minute before halftime for a 1-0 Dynamo lead. But in the 66th minute, Sanna Nyassi scored an equalizing goal and the tension returned to BBVA Compass Stadium. The Dynamo nearly seized a stoppage time win as Ching chipped Montreal goalkeeper Troy Perkins from the top of the box, but Ching’s goal was cancelled by an offside call and the game ended in a 1-1 draw. Houston’s hold on fifth place was just two points ahead of the Columbus Crew.
The third home game arrived two weeks later after an international break—similar to Houston’s upcoming weekend off—in the final regular season home game, against Philadelphia. The Dynamo were trying to solidify a place in the playoffs while aiming to complete an unbeaten home schedule. For the third straight game, the result was in doubt through most of the second half. Garcia turned a 1-1 tie into a 2-1 Dynamo lead in the 71st minute, completing a beautiful counterattack from the Dynamo that began with goalkeeper Tally Hall rolling a short pass to Davis, who found Ching near the center circle. Houston’s all-time leading scorer led the break with a veteran’s calm before picking out Garcia, who buried his chance from 25 yards for the vital goal. Davis added a penalty goal four minutes later to make it 3-1 and seal Houston’s unbeaten home season and a place in the playoffs.
One year later, the scenario is more complex with four games remaining. Last season, the Dynamo had their eye on one pursuer for the final playoff spot, the Columbus Crew. This season, the Dynamo are in fourth place but have four teams close behind, with Philadelphia, Columbus, New England and Chicago all within four points. On the other hand, Houston is just two points behind third place Montreal and four points back of Sporting Kansas City. The New York Red Bulls are ahead of the pack, with an eight point lead on the Dynamo. The Dynamo could mathematically finish anywhere from first to eighth in the East. The remaining schedule represents only four games in a 34-game regular season, but the result could be much more significant.
The long season has reached its final month. After a six-week preseason, the Dynamo have played 37 games in all competitions over seven months. Houston enters October with a great opportunity, with three of four remaining MLS games at home, plus a CONCACAF Champions League game at Árabe Unido on Oct. 24 that could complicate matters.
"I think if you ask any team they’d rather play home than away,” Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear told reporters on Monday. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to win the games, but we’re more comfortable playing at home. But you look at the three teams we’re playing, they’re all above us in the standings and they’re all good teams.”
Kinnear understands the home games are an advantage, but like any game, home or away, none will come easy at this point in the campaign. Memories of last season will confirm that. On Friday, the Dynamo begin a stretch of three pivotal home games that will play a significant role in their place in the East standings and could possibly represent a preview of a postseason series or two. For Dynamo fans, now is an opportunity to witness playoff-caliber soccer and atmospheres one month early. Here’s to a fun month at BBVA Compass Stadium.