For a mid-June matchup, there is more than normal at stake Saturday night for the Houston Dynamo’s game against the Columbus Crew (7:30 p.m., buy tickets).
Houston has the chance to build some momentum after last week’s win over Chivas USA (its first since April 29) and in the process create some space between the Dynamo and Crew — the teams are currently tied for third in the Eastern Conference with 18 points — in the standings. To do that, the Dynamo will have to dispatch a team that has been a tough out for them the past few years.
“Since I’ve been with the Dynamo, we’ve never beat them,” said defender Andre Hainault at training on Thursday. “They’ve got some dangerous players up front and a solid back line, so they’re a complete team.”
Despite the Crew’s recent struggles, the Dynamo are well aware of the skill Columbus possesses. With attacking players such as Jeff Cunningham, Andrés Mendoza, and Eddie Gaven and a defense led by Chad Marshall, Columbus presents a significant challenge. That challenge has shown through in the club’s recent meetings. Houston last beat Columbus in August 2008, but according Houston to head man Dominic Kinnear, the personnel from those matches has changed significantly.
Roster turnover has changed the look of each team, aided by an infusion of youth on both sides — Will Bruin, Rich Balchan, and Justin Meram were all 2011 first-round picks and will likely play significant roles in the match. Still, when the teams take the field Saturday night, the Dynamo are expecting the same type of physical battle the clubs have put on in the past few years. If the game goes according to script, the Dynamo are hoping to take advantage of one of most important home-field advantages.
“Being down here in Houston, we can take advantage of the heat,” said MLS assist leader Brad Davis. “We need to match their intensity for the first 10 or 20 minutes because they know it’s going to be a hot one. All teams come out here trying to get a lead because they know it’s going to be a tough match because the weather.”
And while the match comes in mid-June, there’s the opportunity for the Dynamo to get a win that could play a big role in how the season shapes up.
“If you look at the standings, we’re four points out of first, and the more we can win, the quicker we can climb the table and catch up to teams,” Kinnear said. “Playing a team that’s right next to us in the standings where you can get three points is massive.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.