The Dynamo host Sporting Kansas City on Friday aiming to make a strong last impression before the World Cup break.
With a 23-day gap between Friday’s clash and their next MLS match, Houston are eager to enter the hiatus on a positive note and put recent results behind them, rather than let the frustration linger for a couple more weeks while the planet turns its attention to the action in Brazil.
The break does not just signify the start of the World Cup: it’s a milestone indicating that the Dynamo are roughly halfway through their MLS campaign. After Friday, Houston will have played 16 of 34 regular-season matches.
The stretch run—so distant three months ago when the Dynamo kicked off their 2014 campaign—will soon appear on the horizon, making every result seem that much more important. “We need to start to pick up points, tightening the screws and getting ready to position ourselves for the playoffs,” defender Kofi Sarkodie told HoustonDynamo.com.
Houston embarks on their U.S. Open Cup campaign next Wednesday at BBVA Compass Stadium against the Laredo Heat on a night that’s a doubleheader with the Houston Dash’s NWSL game against the Western New York Flash.
Before that, the Dynamo will welcome their greatest rivals to Houston for the only time this year—in the regular-season, at least. It feels like a major occasion every time the Dynamo face Kansas City. For Sarkodie, the timing makes Friday’s match (7:30 p.m. CT, TICKETS) especially important.
“I think it’s huge because it pushes us into good positive momentum for the Open Cup game, which is another tournament that you want to do well in,” he said. “And it gives you a positive mentality when you have a bit of a break to reflect back and say, look, we have a bit of momentum going, can we now [continue] this as we move into the second half of the season?”
Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear said the break is a chance “to get some players back and also to sit back and watch the World Cup,” with current Dynamo captain Brad Davis and former Houston favorite Geoff Cameron on the U.S. roster. “The break’s there for a number of reasons, one thing would be we’ll see who we can get back in that time and obviously it’d make our team that much better.”
In midfield the Dynamo are without the World Cup-bound Davis and Honduras star Boniek García, as well as the injured Ricardo Clark and Tony Cascio. Striker Mark Sherrod underwent reconstructive surgery on his torn ACL on Wednesday and is expected to miss the rest of the season, while defender Eric Brunner is gradually returning to fitness after ankle surgery.
Peter Vermes’ men will also be below-strength, and potentially without their first-choice center back pairing. Matt Besler is away with the U.S. national team while combative Frenchman Aurelien Collin is nursing an injury. Defender Chance Myers is out for the rest of the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon while playmaker Graham Zusi is also with Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad.
This is the teams’ first meeting since SKC beat the Dynamo 2-1 on aggregate in the Eastern Conference Final last November. The sides shared a goalless draw at BBVA Compass Stadium in the first leg. Then, on a bitterly cold night at Sporting Park, Boniek gave Houston an early lead that was overhauled with goals from C.J. Sapong and Dom Dwyer. SKC duly hosted MLS Cup and beat Real Salt Lake in a penalty shootout.
Dwyer is in goal-rich form, with ten on the season—six in May alone. But SKC are on a rare five-game winless streak, having lost three and drawn two since beating the Montreal Impact 3-0 on May 10. They sit two points ahead of fourth-placed Houston in the Eastern Conference, with a game in hand.
“It’s going to be a good match, KC’s a good team, but I think it’s a team that we’ve known—over the past we’ve played a lot of matches against them, we’re familiar with them. So I think we’ve got to keep our heads down, stay focused, keep grinding and try to get some points out of this match,” said Sarkodie.
“They’re missing Zusi, we’re missing Brad; Chance got injured, Collin’s not going to be in. So they have some players they’re missing, we have some players we’re missing. So if you look at it it’s still going to be a pretty even match in terms of having all those players in the match or not.”
Clark has not played since suffering a concussion against the New York Red Bulls in April and his absence has been felt on both sides of the ball. “Rico’s huge, there’s no doubt about it. If you look over the past seasons what Rico brings to the team, his work ethic, his work rate, his ability to go box-to-box, it definitely is massive for us,” said Sarkodie.
“In saying that, in these matches, and now that it’s the World Cup break, you’re missing a lot of guys and this is where you kind of look at the depth of the team and guys that maybe didn’t think they were going to get opportunities earlier in the the year, you now have your chance, you have your opportunity and this is where you have to capitalize on that—being a professional, making sure that you do everything you can.”
Though the Dynamo have kept five clean sheets in fifteen matches, they have conceded at least three goals on five occasions this year. “Most importantly we need to find our niche again, find what’s going to work for us, find what’s allowed us to have success over the past couple of years and get back to doing what we do well. We need to defend the box better, we need to be more aggressive, have greater awareness of when we’re going to be in danger and make sure that we capitalize as well at the other end of the pitch,” said Sarkodie.