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With only Eastern Conference opponents remaining, Houston Dynamo look to gain ground in playoff race

Think of it as a dozen rivalry matches between now and the end of the regular season. The Dynamo go into Friday’s home game with the Philadelphia Union (8 p.m. CT; TICKETS) knowing that from here on in, every match pits them against Eastern Conference opponents.

With Houston playing catch-up in their bid to make the playoffs, the opportunity to gain ground by taking points from an Eastern rival every time they play is a potential bonus. In contrast, every other side in the division still has at least one fixture against a Western Conference team to come.

“The only way we can get higher is by beating the teams above us and that’s what we get the chance to do pretty much every week,” said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear.

Houston will meet all nine other Eastern Conference clubs between now and the end of the regular campaign on October 24. They will play the Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew and the Union twice more.

The Dynamo battled to a point against Philadelphia at PPL Park last April. Since, the Union have replaced manager John Hackworth with one of his assistants, Jim Curtin, on an interim basis. Their form has improved—they've only lost once in their last nine games—and a 2-1 win over the Montreal Impact last Saturday lifted them into fifth place in the standings.

But Philadelphia are facing two important games in the Texas heat in short order: Tuesday night against FC Dallas in Frisco in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals, then Friday’s match at BBVA Compass Stadium.

“They came off a good win, Sebastien Le Toux got a couple of goals. One’s a typical Le Toux goal, just really chasing down a lost cause. They’ve made a couple of good additions,” said Kinnear, referencing Carlos Valdes, a World Cup defender just back from a long loan spell in his native Colombia. “With that it allows Maurice Edu to play in the middle which I think is a good strength for them,” he said.

“They have decent pace out wide with Le Toux and Danny Cruz and Conor Casey I think is having a good season for them. A team that we’re chasing, too, so I think it’s an important game and one that we hope to get maximum points out of.”

A win on Friday would be a big boost to the Dynamo’s prospects. Currently the team is five points behind Philadelphia with a game in hand. With other Eastern Conference sides not in action until Saturday night, Houston know that three points against the Union will put them only two points adrift of the playoff places, for the time being at least.

“I think every game from now on is a must-get-points game. We know where we want to be at the end of the season, that’s in the playoff race, so we’ve got to start collecting points and Friday [is a good time to start],” forward Giles Barnes told HoustonDynamo.com.

The Dynamo lost 2-0 away to the Seattle Sounders last Sunday but Barnes said the players are not downcast. In front of more than 50,000 fans at CenturyLink Field, Houston had the better of the first half, continuing the confident play they had shown in the previous week’s win over D.C. United. But the Sounders scored off a deflected shot in the 69th minute and added an insurance goal from the penalty spot five minutes later.

“These are all huge games as we know. Seattle was a big game, coming into the locker room [at halftime] I thought we had a good handle on the game and obviously the end result didn’t show that.” Kinnear said.

“There’s a lot of positives to take out of the game, especially the last two games, people are starting to see what we’re capable of. We’ve just got to put away some of the chances that get given to us,” said Barnes.

“I think the goal that they scored was very unfortunate. We’d been playing so well and they get a deflected goal, and then obviously a penalty as well, that kind of swings it all in their favor. But I think we played well, I think that’s the general consensus around the team … We’re a very positive team in general so we’re going to have to, even when it’s not going so well, look at the positives and build on from there.”

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.