This weekend is the last chance for players to convince U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann that they deserve one of the coveted spots on his 30-man World Cup preliminary roster. So Davis is aiming to continue his fine form as he waits to see if his name will appear on the most prestigious shortlist in U.S. soccer.
The midfielder is sure that Klinsmann and his staff will be keeping a close eye on this weekend’s MLS matches. Sunday’s match at BBVA Compass Stadium could be one of the most intriguing fixtures on the slate, as a resurgent Dynamo side buoyed by two successive wins meets a talented Western Conference opponent that is the only unbeaten team remaining in MLS.
Davis missed three matches with an ankle injury last month but has been on point since his return, contributing two assists and a goal in three games. The midfielder has led by example, producing a goal or an assist in each of his past five appearances.
“[Klinsmann’s] said from the beginning, World Cups are all about who’s on form at the right time, who’s hot leading up to it. So this right here is very important. Especially coming back after missing three games with an ankle injury, being able to participate in a positive way hopefully helps things,” Davis told reporters at Houston Sports Park on Friday.
“I know they’re watching, I know they’re keeping tabs on every single guy. He only gets one chance to put 30 names on the list, and one chance to put 23 games on the list. So I know he wants to bring on the top guys.”
Davis started two of the three U.S. games so far in 2014, logging 132 minutes and notching an assist on Chris Wondolowski’s fourth-minute goal against South Korea in February then playing for 59 minutes against Mexico last month.
The 30-man roster is expected to be announced on Monday. Then Klinsmann will have a couple of weeks to whittle the squad down to 23 players. FIFA’s deadline for finalizing rosters is June 2, ten days before host nation Brazil square off with Croatia in the opening match.
Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear said that everyone connected with the team is rooting for Davis. “We want to see him on the plane to Brazil,” he told reporters. “We’re all pulling for him; we hope he makes the final squad, we think he deserves to make it, think he’s played well enough this year on a daily basis to show that he has the quality to be a good part of that team.”
Kinnear said that Davis is always intensely determined regardless of what is at stake when he steps on the field. “His attitude’s great and I think you even saw he was a little bit dismayed around the 60th minute when we decided to [substitute him against the Columbus Crew on Wednesday].
“He’s dying to play every minute and that doesn’t have anything to do with what’s going on with the U.S. team, it’s just his attitude. The Chivas game [last Saturday] was a great example of what he’s been for us this year: scoring that goal which really lifted us and then playing a huge part in the win.”
As well as the laser-guided passes launched by Davis’ oft-praised left foot, Kinnear lauded an aspect of his captain’s game that attracts less attention: astute movement during open play, whether from the left wing or a central position.
“Sometimes goals come down to a set-piece and when you have someone like him in your team you always have the chance to score off a dead ball situation. But I hope he doesn’t get pigeonholed into ‘the set piece specialist’ as he’s much more than that,” said the head coach. “The game against Columbus, he was finding pockets that were springing us going forward. He has more to his game than just crosses and set-pieces, he’s a real good player.”
Arriving in East Downtown with four wins and five draws from nine matches, beating RSL will require everyone in orange to be at their best, though the visitors from Utah have not beaten Houston on the road in nine attempts - eight of them losses.
“They’re a good team, they’ve been together for a while, they keep the ball well, the two center backs I think have been very good, Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler, and Nick Rimando at times has made some fantastic saves,” said Kinnear.
“Javier Morales is a good player and he finds his openings, they look for him quite a lot, and I think Kyle Beckerman does a real good job of not only breaking up plays but springing the ball to the attack, whether it be for him or for Joao Plata or Alvaro Saborio, they’re good, they’re smart.”
Last December, RSL were beaten in MLS Cup by Sporting Kansas City on penalty kicks—then lost their head coach, Jason Kreis, to the newly-created New York City FC franchise that will join MLS in 2015. Kries was replaced by his longtime assistant, Jeff Cassar.
Two faces familiar to many Dynamo fans are on Cassar’s staff. RSL assistant coach Paul Dalglish played for Houston in 2006 and 2007 and is a former Dynamo youth coach and ex-manager of the Austin Aztex.
Another coach who is also a veteran of the MLS Cup-winning seasons, Craig Waibel, ended his MLS playing career with the Dynamo in June 2010—just a week before the U.S. opened their campaign in the last World Cup with a memorable draw with England.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.