Looking on as one of only two Eastern Conference teams without a midweek fixture, the Dynamo had a fleeting reminder of what is at stake when the Philadelphia Union visit BBVA Compass Stadium tomorrow (8 p.m. CT, TICKETS).
A win for the Columbus Crew over the Los Angeles Galaxy on Thursday would have dropped the Dynamo into sixth place in the East, outside the play-off spots. For a few minutes, until two late goals from Robbie Keane in the StubHub Center turned the match around, that scenario was poised to become reality.
In the end, the Galaxy won 2-1 and other results were mostly favorable. The Chicago Fire moved to within two points of Houston with a 3-2 defeat of the San Jose Earthquakes, but none of the four teams above the Dynamo won.
Still, a four-point gap has opened up between Houston in fifth place and the Union and Sporting Kansas City, who are third and fourth respectively. That makes Saturday’s home fixture against Philadelphia even more important. Not only are the Dynamo bidding to end a seven-match winless run in MLS, this is a game in hand and a victory would help them stay close to the teams above.
Entering this campaign the Dynamo were fuelled by the frustration of knowing that only two more points from last year's regular season would have led to the club hosting MLS Cup instead of the Galaxy. The finalist with the better points total enjoys home advantage for the game. Finishing in the top five to reach the post-season is the all-important target, but at the back of everybody’s mind is the knowledge that every regular-season point potentially counts big at the very end of the year.
"Last year we made it to the finals and got punished by a couple of points, otherwise we would have been hosting. This year's goal was to make the playoffs and be higher up so we have the potential to host. The key goal is still to make the playoffs so we've got to start winning and put ourselves in a better position," said defender Bobby Boswell.
On Wednesday, the Union missed a great opportunity to increase their cushion as they conceded a penalty in the seventh minute of stoppage time to let ten-man Real Salt Lake grab a 2-2 draw.
Without ten-goal striker Jack McInerney, who is on Gold Cup duty with the U.S., Union head coach John Hackworth started with powerful target man Conor Casey and the creative Sebastien Le Toux up front. Thanks to McInerney’s lethal finishing, Philadelphia have been shut-out only once this season, in a 2-0 defeat to the New England Revolution in April. But the result at Rio Tinto Stadium underlined that even without McInerney the Union are potent.
“I think they've got a pretty dynamic attack,” said Boswell. “Conor's starting to score some goals, Sebastien's always a handful. They've got a bunch of young eager guys and young eager guys are always dangerous because they're trying to impress.” The Union roster also includes Kleberson, the veteran former Manchester United midfielder who won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002. However, he is an injury doubt.
Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear will be forced to make changes for the game, which takes place on the club’s Armed Forces Appreciation Night. Fullbacks Corey Ashe and Kofi Sarkodie and striker Will Bruin are unavailable. Sarkodie is suspended and Ashe and Bruin are with the U.S. national team.
Desperate to rediscover their scoring touch and without the attacking input of the two fullbacks, the Dynamo are even more eager for assist-machine midfielders Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia to return to full fitness. Garcia has not suited up in orange since the 1-1 draw with Kansas City on May 26.
Both men missed last Sunday’s 2-0 defeat by the New York Red Bulls, but goalkeeper Tally Hall says that the absence of key players is no excuse for the poor recent run of results and lack of goals. “Those guys are obviously a huge part of this team and the creative flair, the things they can do are second to none in this league for their positions,” he said.
“It hurts not having them but we have a good enough team that we should be stepping on the field and doing better than what we have. It’s not a time to say, ‘oh woe is us for missing players’. We have good enough players to be better than we have been. So we're coming together and we need to change.”
The mission is three points, any which way. “When it comes down to it the fans want to see us win and so it's not about putting on a show,” said Hall. “If we play an ugly game of soccer and get three points then they're going to have a good time. The fans deserve to see us win and that's what we want, I think we need a win.”