The Dynamo’s 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Montreal Impact last Saturday felt important at the time. It looked even more vital by Sunday night because many of the teams immediately above Houston also claimed wins last weekend.
With eight regular-season matches left, Houston are five points below the Columbus Crew and the Philadelphia Union, who occupy fourth and fifth place: the final two Eastern Conference playoff berths. As luck would have it, those are the Dynamo’s next two opponents, starting this Saturday when Columbus visit BBVA Compass Stadium (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS).
Dominic Kinnear knows how important this weekend’s match could be to the Dynamo’s postseason hopes. “Five points behind them with a game in hand, obviously if you can get maximum points it puts the points in your favor, but as I always say every week, a lot easier said than done,” the head coach said at Houston Sports Park on Tuesday.
Houston edged Columbus 1-0 in East Downtown back in May, but Gregg Berhalter’s side ran out 3-0 winners at Crew Stadium last month. Both teams have won three of their past four matches, making Saturday’s contest a collision of two of the East’s most in-form sides.
While it was frustrating for the Dynamo to see rivals win last weekend after completing their own task, the team took positives from the way it dug out a victory despite missing regulars Kofi Sarkodie, Will Bruin, Jermaine Taylor and Tally Hall and tumbling into a 2-1 deficit after 55 minutes.
Houston are in eighth place in the standings but have played one match fewer than Columbus, Philadelphia and the New England Revolution, who are third. The New York Red Bulls meet D.C. United on Wednesday night.
“You have to give credit to the other teams above you that keep on winning,” Kinnear said. “You look at the ones that were close, Philadelphia, New York, Columbus and New England all got vital wins too. So you get close and then teams kind of creep away from you again. The best thing to do, as we’ve always said, is when you play teams head-to-head that’s when you can definitely gain ground.”
Philadelphia host New York on Saturday afternoon so the Dynamo will face Columbus knowing that a win will see Kinnear’s men move closer to at least one of the teams above them.
Despite the absence of top-scorer Bruin against Montreal, the Dynamo scored three goals for the second match in a row — something the franchise had not achieved since September 2010. Two came from forward Giles Barnes. Last season’s club leading scorer now has seven goals in MLS this year, two below his 2013 total. Making his first start since June, fellow attacker Omar Cummings had a major role in creating both goals.
“[Barnes] did great — a good game, two goals and his hold-up play, knocking balls on, him and Omar connected on a few good plays early on which I think gave them a little bit of confidence early on,” Kinnear said.
The Englishman scored two contrasting goals: the first a strong run from deep and a firm shot, the second a subtle close-range conversion from a low Cummings cross. “We didn’t tell Giles to play any different. Maybe he just decided to try and get a bit higher at times,” said Kinnear.
“Obviously his first goal was a benefit from that and his second goal was for me it’s one of the better finishes I’ve seen from him since he’s been here. I think we’re all accustomed to seeing him run with the ball and burst by guys and go into empty spaces. That was the first goal. The second goal is one-touch, the way he opened up his body and just kind of rolled it into the goal, that’s a goalscorer’s goal for sure.”
A maestro of a different kind visited Houston Sports Park on Tuesday: Andrés Orozco-Estrada, the Colombia-born new music director of the Houston Symphony and a former goalkeeper himself, chatted with Kinnear and Boniek García and received a personalized jersey as the club welcomed him to the city.
Soccer and classical music have a surprising amount in common: the celebrated Three Tenors, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and the late Luciano Pavarotti, are known as ardent soccer fans who gave concerts to coincide with FIFA World Cups. And composers as diverse as Sir Edward Elgar, Dmitri Shostakovich and Michael Nyman have written soccer-themed music.
Orozco-Estrada said that his job is not unlike that of a soccer coach: both need to get their teams well-drilled so that individuals feels connected and perform in harmony in front of an audience.
That’s largely been the case for the Dynamo in recent weeks; if they can keep up their performance levels the players know that upcoming matches against direct playoff rivals pose a big challenge, but also offer a great opportunity.
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.