Houston Dynamo can jump back near the top of the Eastern Conference with a road win against Chivas USA

With only three points separating seven teams in the crammed Eastern Conference, the Dynamo arrive in California to face Chivas USA on Saturday (9:30 p.m. CT, CSN) knowing that embarking on a good run of form will see them soar up the standings.

The team has not won since March 15 and will not be sorry to leave April behind, but a record that stands at eight points from eight games has not proved too damaging to their playoff ambitions at this early stage of the season.

In fact, the Dynamo are only four points behind the division-leading Columbus Crew (who have played one match fewer). And the Crew are the next visitors to BBVA Compass Stadium, on May 7 (TICKETS). Just six points separates Columbus from the bottom club, the Chicago Fire, who are the only Eastern outfit yet to win this year but have tied a remarkable six of their seven fixtures.

Everyone in the East is aware that right now, with things so bunched-up, a good week or a bad week can have a drastic effect on a team’s league positions. With the Dynamo confident that they have the talent and experience to put together a series of good results, captain Brad Davis views the tight nature of the division as an opportunity.

“It’s crazy to see but it seems to be how it is in this league, every point counts. It gets competitive and all of a sudden you can snap off a couple of games and be right back in the middle of things,” he told reporters this week at Houston Sports Park.

“Unfortunately we’ve had a bit of a rough slide here but winning changes everything, I know you’ve heard that from all of the guys and it truly, truly does. You snap off a couple of wins, get that confidence back and you’re right in the mix of things.”

The Western Conference is more spread out, with an eleven-point gap between leaders Seattle Sounders and the ninth-placed Portland Timbers, who drew 1-1 with the Dynamo last Sunday. Chivas are one point better off than Caleb Porter’s men, with a record of one win, four losses and three ties from their fixtures.

“It’s a team that is struggling a bit themselves so it’s a great opportunity for us to go there and pick up three points,” said Davis. “I like going to L.A., I like playing in that stadium. It’s going to be a challenge; to be a championship team you’ve got to figure out how to win on the road and that’s something we really need to concentrate on. Winning, first and foremost—but winning on the road on a consistent basis as well, that’s something we’re definitely going to concentrate on.”

The Dynamo cruised to a 5-1 win over Chivas at BBVA Compass Stadium last September, with two goals from Giles Barnes, a pair from Boniek Garcia and another from Will Bruin. Along with a 4-0 victory over D.C. United last May, it was the team’s biggest victory of the season. Not that it was plain sailing all the way, as the score was tied at 1-1 after 50 minutes thanks to a Chivas equalizer before Barnes swiftly restored the Dynamo’s advantage.

Unless the clubs meet again in MLS Cup or the U.S. Open Cup, this will be the last fixture between the Dynamo and Chivas in their current guise. MLS announced in February that the league had purchased the club from its owners and would immediately assume responsibility for running it. 

The league said that it intends to resell the club to a new ownership group that will be committed to building a new stadium in Los Angeles. Once the franchise has changed hands again it will be rebranded with a new team name and logo.

The Dynamo have been without some key players at times in recent weeks, such as Davis, Ricardo Clark and Kofi Sarkodie, but center back David Horst said that the winless streak is down to collective shortcomings unrelated to the line-up changes. 

“Everybody’s good enough to step in and if someone’s out we shift a guy,” he said. “Now, the team itself hasn’t played as well, that’s something that we need to work on, but guys are stepping in and doing well, everyone’s doing their job so far.”

Horst is wary of Chivas’s goal threat. Forward Erick "Cubo" Torres has scored six of their eight goals this term. “They are a very good attacking team and have a very experienced back line with [Carlos] Bocanegra,” he said.

Chivas acquired the former USMNT captain from Spanish club Racing Santander last July. The 34-year-old began his professional career with the Fire and went on to play for Fulham in the English Premier League, in France’s top division with Rennes and St Etienne and for Rangers in Scotland.

Bocanegra has accumulated 116 international appearances. “Growing up, even when I was in college he was one of the guys that as an American kid I looked up to as a center back, and now it’s pretty cool that I get to play against him,” said Horst.

Sadly for the Dynamo, Tony Cascio will not be on the field. The 24-year-old winger on loan from the Colorado Rapids underwent surgery this week for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and is expected to miss the rest of the year. Horst can empathize, since he suffered a broken leg in April last year that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

“My heart goes out to him, I know what’s that like. Tony’s a great kid, great player, strong player, and he’ll work very hard to come back and I know he’ll be back form this injury,” said Horst.

Horst’s experience taught him that successful recovery from a long-term injury is about mental strength and a positive attitude as well as physical rehabilitation. “It definitely is, it’s about having a good group of people around you and all of us are going to be supporting him over the next few months here, the coaches, the organization, the players and his family,” he said. “Tony’s a strong kid, he’ll be back better than ever.”

Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.