Buoyed by strong recent form and the signing of Alexander Lopez, the Dynamo travel to Western Conference leaders Real Salt Lake on Saturday aiming for three points.
Utah has not been kind to Houston down the years. While the Dynamo own an 8-0-1 home record against RSL, on the road it's a different story, with one win, three losses and four ties. The Dynamo's most recent visit to RIo Tinto Stadium was a goalless draw in May 2010.
With 38 points from 23 games, RSL is three points clear at the top of the West and in a tie with the New York Red Bulls at the summit of the Supporters' Shield standings. Jason Kreis' men have scored 38 goals, making them the most potent attacking side in the league so far this year.
But Saturday's game at Rio Tinto Stadium (8:30 p.m. CT; CSN Plus / Mega TV) will be RSL's third in seven days, a stiff workload for any team. They defeated the Portland Timbers on Wednesday to reach the final of the U.S. Open Cup.
And the Dynamo are feeling confident after snapping a difficult spell earlier in the season with a run of three wins and a draw in their past four MLS contests, not to mention the 2-0 BBVA Compass Dynamo Charities Cup victory over England's Stoke City.
Last Saturday's 3-1 home win over the Columbus Crew featured a goal from Will Bruin on his return to the line-up after a month away with the U.S. and a superb late clincher from Cam Weaver that was named AT&T Goal of the Week with more than 47 percent of the vote.
Plus, Lopez, the new Young Designated Player from Honduran side C.D. Olimpia, should link up with the team next week once the transfer's red tape is completed, adding an intriguing attacking option in midfield. And striker Calen Carr is getting closer to a first appearance since his serious knee injury in last year's MLS Cup, having been upgraded from "out" to "questionable" on the latest injury report.
So while the Dynamo are fully aware of the task ahead, they are approaching the match with optimism. "It’s a tough place to play, they’ve been a good team. They knock the ball around well. Javier Morales has been a real good player for them but behind him is Kyle Beckerman who does a lot of the dirty work and is good going forward," said head coach Dominic Kinnear.
"We think we can win. In MLS, you look at it top to bottom, anybody can beat anybody. So it’s probably the tightest it’s been since its inception. Can we beat Salt Lake away from home? Yeah, I think we can, we’ve got the players to do it. Knowing that they’re a tough team, they’re very good at home, and have good players."
With the Dynamo since 2009, Tally Hall is very familiar with the team's habit of proving doubters wrong by stepping up performances when the season enters its closing stages.
"Two months ago maybe [people] were saying, 'oh this team’s on the down.' It’s a long season. It comes down to experience. We know that if you have a good performance, get your stuff together, get your mind right heading into the fall then you’re going to be a dangerous team," the goalkeeper said.
Hall, like his teammates, relishes matches against teams of the caliber of RSL because testing himself against the best – and passing the exam – gives him the greatest job satisfaction.
"We’ve got to get the job done, we all want to be winners out there and it's not easy when you’re playing against another team that has the same mindset. It’s fun. That’s where the joy comes from. The joy’s not out here training every day when it’s 95 degrees," he said.
"It's fun being on the field in competition knowing that a shot's coming my way and I’ve got to save it, or we go down or we lose our lead. That’s a fun feeling and making that save is a fun feeling. Watching people make big tackles that prevent counter attacks. That’s fun to be a part of. When it comes down to it, that’s what this team loves and I think that’s one of the reasons why we play the game."
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.