Clear, calm and sunny: the weather on Monday at the Dynamo training ground reflected the mood in the camp ahead of Sporting Kansas City’s visit to BBVA Compass Stadium on Wednesday.
It’s hard to argue against the SKC clash as Houston’s biggest game of the season so far. Win and the third-placed Dynamo will move to just a point behind their opponents, who are second in the Eastern Conference.
Three points will also put the leaders, the New York Red Bulls, within the range of the Men in Orange. New York are six points ahead, but they have played a game more and still have to visit BBVA Compass Stadium for each club’s penultimate MLS fixture of the regular season, on October 20.
On the other hand, defeat for the Dynamo on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS) will mean that a top-two finish, and therefore home advantage in the Conference semifinals, will be out of reach. And the team will likely need a decent result or two in its last two fixtures to confirm a postseason berth.
So yes, a quick analysis of the standings and schedule tells you the stakes are high. And that’s before factoring in what the numbers don’t show: the emotions and drama generated by games featuring these two great Eastern rivals. To continue the weather theme: matches between the Dynamo and SKC tend to be stormy.
But recent excellent results have brightened the mood in the camp. The relish in Tally Hall’s voice was obvious as the Dynamo goalkeeper looked ahead to Wednesday night. It is an opportunity for the team to keep rolling forwards, hot on the heels of the previous game home game, a big 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact that was the team’s fourth win in their past five matches in all competitions.
For Hall, the gap is long enough for players to recuperate and short enough that the positive momentum from the win will not dissipate.
“To me a Friday–Wednesday is almost that perfect time period where you’re allowed to rest and for the most part guys can get back to feeling healthy, so for me I look at it as I’m excited to play this game,” he said.
“You look at the season and you’re waiting all year to get to this point where you’re feeling a little bit of momentum, the team’s playing at its best, you’re playing against the best teams in the league, with Montreal and KC. To have the game sooner rather than later? I absolutely love it.”
“The positive side out of it was that we came out of it healthy, that’s the most important thing, because you knew Wednesday you were going to be two light with international duty so you want to make sure you got through this game and the reserve game,” said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear.
Andrew Driver’s four-minute cameo off the bench late against the Impact was his first appearance in a month. After playing 90 minutes nine times in a row in MLS earlier in the summer, the England-born winger hasn’t gone the distance since the win over the New England Revolution on July 13.
But he says he is fit again after his calf strain and ready if called upon on Wednesday—perfect timing given García’s absence.
“I haven’t been out too long so I don’t think I’ll have lost much fitness or anything, I got a good half an hour in the reserves the other day, feeling good, happy to be back involved,” said Driver. “We’re at a stage where if we win a couple of games we’re really looking good for the playoff run. I think the confidence is high. Theres a buzz around the place, the last few weeks there’s really been a little bit more confidence.”
It has been a while since the teams last bumped into each other. A 1-0 win for SKC on May 12 ended the Dynamo’s record-breaking home unbeaten run, then the sides played out a 1-1 tie at Sporting Park two weeks later.
“I forgot the last couple of days that it was Kansas City that beat us. We’re just looking forward to having a good performance, it’s an opportunity for us to get a win so I haven’t really looked back too much,” said Hall. “Yeah, it was them who ended it—but that feels like ages ago now and we have ahead of us three more games and KC is going to be the biggest game of the year. After that it’s going to be New York.
“So every game right now is the absolute biggest game of the year and we get excited for that. You can’t help but look forward to a game where you know you’re going to be tested defensively; you know you’re going to be able to break them down with the way the team’s playing. And so it’s exciting.”
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.