The three-pronged mission: get a team out, get through and get healthy. The Dynamo host the Laredo Heat in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday looking to progress and then spend the World Cup break recuperating after a spell marked by an extraordinary number of absences.
After the match at BBVA Compass Stadium (9 p.m. CT, TICKETS), Houston will have a couple of weeks to rest their legs and watch the action from Brazil. If the Dynamo can cool off the Heat, their next match will be a fifth-round U.S. Open Cup tie at home to either the San Antonio Scorpions or FC Dallas on June 24 or 25. The team are not in MLS action again until June 29’s trip to Quebec to face the Montreal Impact.
Giles Barnes sees Wednesday’s game as a chance to boost the feel-good factor and snap a four-match losing streak. “Any game, any place, it’s important to win. To win tomorrow and go into the break with that little bit of confidence, hopefully score a few goals, get the buzz back for the fans, for the team in general—everyone goes away, has a few days off then gets their mind focused, rejuvenated and energized for the second half of the season,” the forward told HoustonDynamo.com.
“I think we’ve got a good squad and it’s all going to come together pretty soon, I’m pretty sure about that, and I’m sure if you speak to any of the other boys they’ll be saying exactly the same.”
- DOUBLEHEADER: Catch two games for the price of one on Wednesday night
It would almost be quicker to list who is not available on Wednesday than who is. Injured defenders David Horst and Corey Ashe were added to the absentees last week, while midfielder Brian Ownby is questionable after a concussion. Brad Davis and Boniek García are in Brazil and Tony Cascio, Mark Sherrod and Ricardo Clark are injured. Once again it looks inevitable that there will be spare seats on the substitutes’ bench.
In ordinary circumstances, head coach Dominic Kinnear would have the luxury of picking a side that molds experience with youth. But as in recent weeks, his options are severely limited. “Knowing our squad situation, we’re going to put out the best team possible to try and win the game,” he told HoustonDynamo.com.
Even with so many missing pieces, Houston go into Wednesday’s game—the second act of a doubleheader that starts with the Houston Dash’s NWSL match against the Western New York Flash at 6:30 p.m.—as strong favorites.
With a 2-1-2 record, the Heat are currently second behind the Austin Aztex in the mid-south division of the USL Premier Development League, the fourth tier of American soccer.
They reached this point with an upset 3-2 road win over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the second-tier North American Soccer League. The Strikers took an early 2-0 lead and had their goalkeeper sent off, but were still winning with five minutes left. Two goals in the final four minutes completed a remarkable turnaround for the club from the Texas border city some 300 miles southwest of Houston.
“On paper we should beat these guys but attitude’s very important in cup games. It’s going to be an important game for them. They beat Fort Lauderdale, who’s a good team, a team above them, if you look at it from a league point of view. They’ll be energized, they’ll be playing like it is a cup final for them and rightly so,” said Kinnear.
As if to underline the Dynamo’s personnel misfortunes, Arena is cup-tied and unavailable to face Laredo. The promising center back has spent time on loan at the Pittsburgh Riverhounds this season, joining up with the Dynamo at short notice to provide cover when necessary.
“It was good to get minutes, definitely. You can’t really replace game minutes with anything else, it’s much better than practice,” he told HoustonDynamo.com. He has fond memories of playing last year against Tucson. “It did a lot for me. First professional game ever and I thought I performed pretty well and it was good for [my confidence],” he said.
The 23-year old then made his MLS debut a couple of days later, appearing for 70 minutes as a substitute for Eric Brunner in the Dynamo’s next game, a 1-1 draw with the Columbus Crew.
“No one could ever have predicted what Houston have gone through with everyone getting injured and everything, and the kind of injuries we’ve had. Flying at the last minute is not ideal but at the same time you like getting brought back into the team and it’s good to come back,” said Arena.
“We’ve had a rough couple of games but everyone’s still strong, still training hard and guys have the right mentality.”
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.