Houston Dynamo begin crucial road stretch with a trip to Ohio against Columbus Crew

Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall believes the team have rounded into their best form of the year in recent weeks. The timing could hardly be more ideal as Houston embark on a two-match road swing that has the potential to be an acid test for their playoff ambitions.

The Dynamo visit the Columbus Crew on Saturday night (6:30 p.m. CT; CSN Plus/Telemundo) then lock horns with old adversaries Sporting Kansas City on August 29. Both are set to be titanic clashes: SKC currently top the Eastern Conference while Columbus are five points ahead of Houston and have just come off their most impressive win of the year.

Gregg Berhalter’s men beat the Los Angeles Galaxy 4-1 last week to lift themselves to fourth in the standings and reinvigorate their postseason hopes. But the Dynamo are enjoying a renaissance of their own, with two wins in their past three games. For Hall, those results reflect sound all-around displays.

“Columbus always gives us a good game, traditionally we have struggled against them but I feel like we’re playing our best soccer of the year and we’re very consistent. We’re hard to break down right now so I think we’re going in there with a lot of optimism,” he said.

The Dynamo have only won once at Crew Stadium but four of their eight matches in the venue were ties. Last week the Dynamo completed a season-high 514 passes on the way to a 2-0 defeat of the Philadelphia Union and there was plenty of fluent play, not least the combination between Brad Davis, Giles Barnes and Will Bruin that led to the opening goal.

Hall believes that the recent captures of defender/midfielder DaMarcus Beasley and defensive midfielder Luis Garrido have acted as a catalyst, spurring on a team that has been more settled and healthier than earlier in the year. “Give a lot of credit to Beas and Garrido, additions that have come and raised everyone’s level, even guys that aren’t playing in the same positions. You get two good players and it kind of pushes everyone along,” he said.

“Garrido has been excellent in keeping our defensive and midfield players together and balanced, everything is kind of clicking right now. Instead of no one really playing well it seems like everyone’s playing their best soccer. Now we’re more organized, we’re more balanced, we’re more together.”

That unity and solidity will need to be evident again on Saturday against a Crew side that boasts one of the league’s best playmakers, Federico Higuain. “He just kind of roams and he finds his way, he likes to dip inside, switch on to his right foot and try to play those important balls for guys,” said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear. “Trying to negate his time on the ball is very important.”

Naturally, Kinnear would like to see his players make a fast start against the Crew. Only once this season — in July’s 4-2 defeat to Toronto FC — have the Dynamo taken the lead on the road. But they did claim all three points against Columbus at BBVA Compass Stadium back in May courtesy of a goal from the in-form Bruin. “Scoring first I think would go a long way, that would give us some confidence. Getting some early chances would be helpful, but being defensively smart is a good thing,” said Kinnear.

For right back Kofi Sarkodie, the key to success against Columbus will be a combination of the specific and the general: keeping Higuain quiet and maintaining the overall standards set in the past few weeks. “I think we’re just as a unit more solidified,” he said. “There’s more guys in good positions around the ball which allows us to transition both defensively and offensively a lot better.”