The Dynamo welcome Toronto FC to BBVA Compass Stadium tomorrow seeking their first MLS win since the 4-0 destruction of D.C. United at RFK Stadium on May 8.
That came straight after an impressive 1-0 road victory over the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy but Houston haven't been able to add to their tally since, save for beating FC Tucson in the U.S. Open Cup.
A combination of injuries, a suspension and international call-ups has meant that head coach Dominic Kinnear was unable to field full-strength line-ups. Now the squad is close to full fitness, with only long-term absentee Calen Carr and young defender Anthony Arena reported as unavailable for Saturday's match (8 p.m. CT, CSN Houston).
Captain Brad Davis is back after a successful stint with the U.S. national team that saw Jurgen Klinsmann's team move closer to qualification for next year's World Cup. The midfielder is eying three points tomorrow.
"It's been a little bit of time since we won a game and we want to get that feeling back in the locker room," he said. "We know we've got the talent to take care of business when we step on the field, it's just a matter of going out there, having a strong mentality and doing it."
Rewinding to the past five MLS fixtures, the results do not tell the full story. The 1-0 defeat by Sporting Kansas City on May 12 that ended the Dynamo's MLS-record 36-game home unbeaten streak was a tight battle that was heading for a draw until SKC defender Aurelien Collin popped up with a late winner. Houston were without joint-top scorer Giles Barnes for that game and the fixture's timing was tough, coming only a couple of days after the cross-country trips to California and Washington.
Six days later the Dynamo hosted the New England Revolution and lost 2-0. Dynamo defender Jermaine Taylor came off injured after ten minutes, then his fellow center back Bobby Boswell and Dimitry Imbongo were sent off for clashing in the first half and the visitors coped better with ten men.
The reshuffled defense was unable to contain the lively Diego Fagundez, who scored a fine goal early in the second period, and a late own-goal ended hopes of a Dynamo recovery. It was a disappointment for a club that always expects to win at home, though New England's recent results, including a 5-0 win over the Galaxy, have shown that they are a growing force.
Then came an admirable 1-1 road draw in a swift re-match with Sporting. The Dynamo took the lead through Davis moments before the break. Kei Kamara equalized in the second half but it was a spirited showing from a Houston XI missing its two first-choice center backs and left back Corey Ashe, who came off injured at half time.
It was a similar story on June 1 as the Dynamo earned a point away to the Columbus Crew. Boswell and Taylor were absent again while Davis and Boniek Garcia were on international duty. Defender Eric Brunner and midfielder Adam Moffat came off injured in the first half and Barnes suffered an ankle problem late in the second period. Still, Warren Creavalle's sharp finish gave the visitors the hope of victory until Federico Higuain drew the Crew level from the penalty spot in the 69th minute.
Then, on Wednesday, the Dynamo were downed 2-0 by the Eastern Conference-leading Montreal Impact in Quebec. Two defensive errors handed the Impact their goals and after a sluggish start, Houston wasted a penalty-kick that would have tied the scores at 1-1.
The players who've stepped in for the regulars, such as Arena, Jason Johnson and Mike Chabala, have done solid jobs. And considering the Dynamo had at least ten shots in each of those matches and had the bulk of possession in three of them, they haven't been overwhelmed or muted. The pattern of play suggests that if the Dynamo can find more precision and ruthlessness at both ends of the field they will return to winning ways.
"There are some good teams in this league, there's nothing easy. We got some good chances the other night against Montreal, we just were a little bit off. For me, we're still creating chances. When we're not creating chances and getting completely dominated, it's a huge problem. But I thought we created some chances in the second half," said Kinnear.
"I always try to keep the message the same, of just staying involved in the playoff race. We're right in that level now in the East. Obviously Montreal jumped a little bit ahead of us so we're trying to make up some ground and hopefully with a win tomorrow you do create a bigger gap between yourselves and other teams below you."
The Dynamo are in a three-way tie for third place in the Eastern Conference with the Philadelphia Union and Kansas City. Each club has 22 points from 15 games. Montreal are well-placed with 29 points from 14 games but the New York Red Bulls, in second, are only three points clear of Houston having played a match more. New England and Columbus are just outside the top five, two points worse off than the Dynamo.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian and SI.com.