It's time for Part Two. With 17 regular-season MLS matches in the books and 17 more to come, the Independence Day clash with the New York Red Bulls at BBVA Compass Stadium (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS) marks the start of the second half of the season for the Dynamo.
With both Brad Davis and Boniek García available after their return from the World Cup, the pair could appear on the field together for the first time since May 11. That would be a big boost for a Dynamo side that knows results must improve if they are to reach the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
In recent weeks the regular prematch report of unavailable players took on epic proportions. The latest official summary, though, lists only two as definitely out: Mark Sherrod and Tony Cascio, both injured for the long-term.
Optimism still needs to be mixed with caution, with Ricardo Clark only just back from a concussion suffered in a defeat at Red Bull Arena in April, defenders Corey Ashe (right knee) and Jermaine Taylor (hip) questionable and center back David Horst returning from a groin problem.
At least head coach Dominic Kinnear and his co-workers won’t be able to spread out in their seats as much as in recent weeks. “Usually when you look down there we’ve had more staff on the bench than substitutes in the last month and a bit so that’s been a bit tough to swallow,” said Kinnear, who is hoping that the old adage “strength in numbers” rings true.
“But now we have a squad of 20 to pick from, or more. We haven’t had that in a while. Some guys are still a little bit banged up. I think you can see in the team, for the second half of the season, if we can stay healthy I think we can go on a good run here,” he told reporters at Houston Sports Park on Thursday.
There can be few fitter players in MLS than García. After Honduras were eliminated from the World Cup last Wednesday he flew from Brazil to Canada via Miami in time for last Sunday’s game against the Montreal Impact. Not only did the 29-year-old attacking midfielder get to the match, he was one of the Dynamo’s best players. Eager to shake off his World Cup disappointment, he lasted 90 minutes, tried three shots—the most on the team—and took four corners.
“I was just very disappointed at the way things turned out [in Brazil], especially because of the fact that we were very hopeful we’d be able to do well,” he told HoustonDynamo.com through a translator. García was a non-playing member of the Honduras squad at the 2010 World Cup but featured in all three of his country’s group games this time.
“I did enjoy it, there was something special about it. Obviously I didn’t enjoy it as much as I probably would have under other circumstances but it was nice, the fact I played made it a little bit better for me, knowing I had the opportunity to do something for my team; but it was still pretty painful,” he said.
As for his trek to Quebec, which saw him arrive around 5 p.m. on the night before the game: “I was very tired, a lot of hours at airports and in planes; but I was just happy and eager to get back and try and make a contribution. For me it was all about getting back to the Dynamo once the World Cup was over and I just wanted to get on the field as quickly as possible,” he said.
New York are without injured midfielder Dax McCarty and defender Roy Miller, who is in Brazil with Costa Rica though will miss their quarterfinal against the Netherlands through injury. But English striker Bradley Wright-Phillips is attracting some of the New York buzz that normally centers on Thierry Henry. Wright-Phillips leads the MLS Golden Boot race with 12 goals so far this season, three of them against Houston in April’s 4-0 win. He scored a stoppage-time equalizer as the Red Bulls drew 2-2 with Toronto FC last Friday. Australian Tim Cahill, who last month scored one of the best goals of the World Cup, came off the bench.
While Mike Petke’s team have had the better of recent league encounters, the Dynamo beat them in last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals. Currently eighth, a home win on Friday night at BBVA Compass Stadium will see Kinnear’s team leapfrog the visitors and potentially rise into fifth place, depending on other results. The evening also has a significance beyond soccer.
“It’s Armed Forces Appreciation Night which to Brad and myself means an awful lot,” said goalkeeper Tally Hall. The pair head up Brad and Tally’s Banded Brigade. “We have our own [non-profit] charity that gives back to the men and women of the armed forces so this day is extremely special to us,” said Hall.
“If I was a robot I’d say ‘no, all the games are the same and we want to win every single game.' And that’s true. But this game personally means a lot for us and to have Brad back, to have Boney back, to have a strong squad, we’re looking to say, all right, this can be the point that we turn the season around.”
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.