Houston Dynamo forward corps depth continues to build as season winds down

While missed chances were a key factor in the Dynamo’s defeat to the New York Red Bulls at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday, there was some positive news for the team’s attack.

Rookie Jason Johnson scored his first goal with a cool finish and new Young Designated Player Alexander López provided his first assist with a delicate pass in behind the defense.

Then, while Houston were still digesting the disappointment of a 4-1 loss to Eastern Conference playoff rivals, there were good tidings from the reserves game played straight afterwards, as both Calen Carr and Omar Cummings found the net.

Playing and scoring was a milestone for the forwards as they continue their recoveries from knee injuries and bid to get healthy enough to make important contributions down the stretch.

With both men known for their speed and movement off the ball, when fully fit they should provide useful options for head coach Dominic Kinnear as he looks to pep up the attack.

The Dynamo are currently sixth, one spot outside the playoff places on the “goals scored” tiebreaker with seven fixtures to go. This Saturday the team travels to face the Philadelphia Union, who are two points ahead of Houston but have played a game more (6:30 p.m. CT; CSN Plus, Mega TV).

Carr was an unused substitute against New York then played for most of the reserves’ game against the Red Bulls' reserves. He has been on a long and arduous path towards recovery since suffering a serious knee injury in last December’s MLS Cup.

“It was good for me to get back out there. It was a good day for me to be back in uniform for the first time on the bench, available for selection and then to get 65 minutes in the reserve game was a good start as well,” he said.

The 30-year-old scored with a 42nd-minute header. He said after training on Tuesday that fitness-wise the match went better than expected. “It felt good, I was pleasantly surprised. Obviously I’ve been training for a little bit now but until you get into more of a game-like atmosphere you’re not quite sure how [your body’s] going to respond.

“I was very pleased, I wasn’t quite expecting to play even that many minutes. As the game wore on I felt I could give some more and the coaching staff and trainers agreed I was looking fine to continue. It felt like I was moving pretty well and managed to get a goal.

“I’m hoping that my performance in the reserve game maybe will give the coaching staff a little bit more confidence to insert me into a game if they think it suits me … It’s still going to be a journey and a process that I’m going to keep building throughout the season but I do think I can help this team and fill a role on this team and hopefully help us achieve some of our goals.”

The primary aim now, of course, is to secure a place in the East’s top five and reach the playoffs for the third successive year. As an integral part of the roster that came so close to winning the MLS title in the past two years, Carr is confident that the Dynamo can turn their form round following a run of three defeats in their past four MLS matches.

“I know all the guys in the locker room and I know the coaching staff and the character of the group which I think is really strong so that doesn’t worry me. If that stuff was a problem I think we would be in really big trouble. We’ve got a group of men that I think can fix things,” he said.

“As down as things may seem, we’re still in a pretty good position. There are a lot of teams that would maybe trade positions with us in the table. If we can right the ship as far as our play goes, I think that will hopefully result in us getting into a better position but we know we need to play better, there’s no secret to that.”

As for Cummings, the 31-year-old has not played an MLS game in two months after suffering a left knee sprain, having missed the start of the season following surgery on his other knee. The Jamaican wants to make sure his movement is completely uninhibited before he returns to the first-team.

“I feel good for the most part, just a little bit of restriction with the injury,” he told HoustonDynamo.com. “As a striker you don’t want to feel hesitant to make that shot or that pass."

Cummings replaced Carr against New York's reserves and scored within seven minutes on a precise strike from distance into the corner.

After joining the club in the close-season only for injuries to ruin much of his campaign to date, Cummings is desperate to make a big contribution in the coming weeks. “That’s one of the things that keeps me going and motivated, I still feel like I have a lot to offer this team and feel like I have some goals to score for this team,” he said.

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.