There is a mirror-image quality to the Dynamo's results so far this season: a big win was followed by a narrow victory, then a narrow defeat preceded a big loss.
The team's performance levels have been more consistent than the variable scorelines imply. Houston travel to face the New England Revolution on Saturday afternoon (4 p.m. CT, CSN Houston) aiming to show that their 4-0 win over Jay Heaps's side on opening day is a more accurate reflection of the team's potential than last Saturday's 4-1 reverse at home to FC Dallas.
New England have one win, three losses and a tie so far this season. They have scored only twice—but that masks the true potential of a team replete with sharp and precise attacking midfielders and quick, pesky strikers. The Revolution reached last year's Eastern Conference playoffs and on a good day they pose a threat from both set-pieces and open play. In addition, no doubt they will be eager to avenge their heavy loss at BBVA Compass Stadium just five weeks ago.
"They're at home again, they've had a little bit of heartbreak and some bad luck run against them. So you have to step on the field thinking that things are going to go their way and you have to step on the field thinking that guys are going to play well," said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear.
"We've had some good games against them and we've had some poor games against them," said goalkeeper Tally Hall.
"When we've had poor games we let them take the ball and run at us. The caliber of players that they have on their team, if they're running at us, they're going to be able to break us down. They're very good. If we can press them high, if we can apply pressure early, we take away some of their fundamental strengths and what they're going to try to do. It's a matter of us being organized defensively and once we shut them down I think it creates a good shape going forward."
Captain Brad Davis was forced off against Dallas shortly before halftime with a right ankle sprain and is listed as doubtful for Saturday on the official injury report. He was replaced by Tony Cascio, himself making a comeback from injury. The loan signing from the Colorado Rapids or Andrew Driver could deputize for Davis if necessary, while the versatile Warren Creavalle is another midfield option.
"If Brad's not available we have guys with experience who got a lot of minutes last year so we'll kind of pick off where we left off," said right back Kofi Sarkodie. "Of course Brad's a difference-maker, one of our playmakers and provides a different look for us on the pitch with his free kicks and also his service out wide, but we've got to be able to rely on guys coming off the bench. During the World Cup break it's going to be the same thing, when different guys have to come in and do a job."
Injury and suspension has left the Dynamo shorthanded in defense for the first of three successive road trips to opponents from the northeast. Center back David Horst was ejected during the second half of last week's game and is suspended. After his red card, Kinnear brought on rookie AJ Cochran for his MLS debut.
The 21-year-old central defender out of the University of Wisconsin was the 16th overall pick in this year's MLS SuperDraft and has impressed so far in training.
Kinnear told reporters on Thursday that Cochran is one option to replace Horst, along with Anthony Arena and veteran midfielder Ricardo Clark. Arena is on loan at the Pittsburgh Riverhounds of the USL Pro league but will be recalled for this weekend. He made one MLS appearance last season as a substitute for Eric Brunner against the Columbus Crew last June. Brunner is out for about the next two months after undergoing right ankle surgery on an injury he suffered in preseason.
"AJ was the only natural center back on the bench we had last week and that was the sub we made. I think he's had a pretty good week of training so he's definitely put himself in contention to be on from the first minute," said Kinnear.
For the head coach, every occasion is unique—even more so when line-ups change. But one of his key doctrines is that his players must maintain the highest levels of mental focus and physical commitment every time they step on the field.
"The attitude has to be the same. I'm sure it was a bit surprising for everybody that that [4-0] result came about in the fashion that it did. No two games really replicate themselves but you can always replicate your attitude," he said.