W Connection clash key as Houston Dynamo continue late season surge

There is no more powerful force in soccer than momentum, and the Dynamo are looking to keep rolling forward tonight as W Connection visit BBVA Compass Stadium in the CONCACAF Champions League (7 p.m. CT; TICKETS).

Three points this evening will complete a hat-trick of successive wins after MLS victories over the Philadelphia Union and Chivas USA, setting the Dynamo up perfectly for this Saturday’s key trip to Eastern Conference rivals, the New England Revolution.

For Calen Carr, the two competitions cannot be viewed in isolation given the need to produce high-quality performances in every single match as the season reaches its climax.

“I think the Champions League, obviously we want to advance but I also think it’s important to maintain that momentum and that good spirit in the locker room and carry it into the weekend game in New England,” the striker said.

“I think the Philadelphia game was a real turning point. I think you have several moments in a season that can really buoy the confidence of the group. The performance, while it may not have been our most fluid soccer, was a game that we needed to have, maybe just an ugly win, get a good set piece and gut it out—Brian Ownby out there with an injured ligament playing the last five or ten minutes.

“I think that type of resolve from the group, from top to bottom, from guys who played the full 90 to just the last ten or 15 minutes, really made a big difference and I think you saw that carry over to our performance last weekend.”

On a high after last Saturday’s 5-1 demolition of Chivas, the Dynamo are seeking another convincing home display this evening, especially with three huge MLS clashes looming at BBVA Compass Stadium. Houston host the East’s current top three sides next month, the Montreal Impact, Sporting Kansas City and the New York Red Bulls—so home form will be crucial in determining the team’s fate.

Tonight’s match is about pride as well as points, according to striker Omar Cummings. “I think the Champions League is big all around [the region], it’s basically my league against yours to prove which one’s better. So whenever we step out we need to remember that. Guys are playing for their region, for MLS, and they’re playing for their country. It’s going to prove who’s the best league in the region,” he said. “We definitely have to get the three points, especially at home.”

The teams shared a goalless draw in Trinidad on August 20. W Connection sit bottom of the three-club group with one point and have no chance of advancing in the tournament. The Dynamo have four, with a game in hand on leaders Arabe Unido, who have six points. A win on Wednesday will see Houston rise into first place and mean that a draw in Panama on October 24 will ensure qualification for the next round. Anything less, and the Dynamo would have to win on the road to advance.

“This is an important game, if we win this game then we’ll be in the driver’s seat as far as the group’s concerned,” said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear. His task is to pick a side that can win tonight—without compromising the roster’s health for Saturday and beyond.

“It is a tough one because the guys put a great effort in on Saturday, got a great win and along the way sometimes you pick up some knocks that carry over, to where maybe these guys aren’t going to be available on Wednesday. We’re going to make changes anyways, and sometimes it’s forced upon you,” said Kinnear.

“The one thing we can’t do now is risk guys to get them injured. Because we’ve worked hard to get guys back to being healthy, and now if you start pushing them back to square one, you’re struggling as you go for the stretch run here.”

Kinnear paid a heartfelt tribute to Brian Ching yesterday at the press conference announcing the Dynamo legend’s retirement at the end of the season and the creation of a charity testimonial match in his honor on December 13.

“He always came through … I’d love to have been his teammate,” said Kinnear. “He’s a winner, he’s a competitor, he’s a fighter and he’s honest … you talk about a big goal, you talk about Brian Ching. You talk about a moment in Dynamo history, you talk about Brian Ching.”

The striker is the franchise’s all-time goals leader, with 69. He was a member of the teams that won MLS Cup in 2006 and 2007. He has made 233 regular-season MLS appearances over 12 years. But his influence cannot be measured by statistics alone.

“It wasn’t all about goals and assists,” said Kinnear, referring to the Hawaiian’s commitment to treating his position as the first line of defense.

That approach, unusual among strikers, symbolized what makes Ching so widely admired by everyone connected with the Dynamo, and plenty of others around the league: his effort and spirit, his intense and unselfish determination to give everything his body and mind could muster, every time he steps on the field.

Ching is the embodiment of the core values Kinnear has sought to instill in the club, so it is no wonder the two men have a mutual respect and deep bond that goes far deeper than a typical relationship between a player and his coach. “I look at him as a mentor, a friend and almost as a family member,” said Ching.

The 35-year-old’s pre-eminent place in franchise history is assured, said Dynamo president Chris Canetti: “There’s no doubt that Brian Ching’s name is going to be at the top of the list as one of the leading cast of characters who made us who we are and what we will be.”

The aim now is for the players to continue the winning tradition that was started in the inaugural year in Houston, and make Ching's final Dynamo season as successful as his first.

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.