Success is the product of a love-hate relationship, according to Dynamo captain Brad Davis. In a league as fiercely competitive as MLS, players have to detest defeat and use their passion as a motivator to propel their teams to a victory they crave. To earn the joy of winning, you must fear the alternative.
The Dynamo felt those contrasting emotions in quick succession during a wild 3-2 win over the Montreal Impact at BBVA Compass Stadium last Saturday — and they are prepared for another dramatic night on Saturday when they host the fifth place Columbus Crew in one of the most important games of the season (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS).
From being 1-0 up and looking comfortable against Montreal the Dynamo found themselves in a 2-1 hole in the second half, only to spin the contest around and rekindle their postseason hopes with goals from Giles Barnes and Ricardo Clark in the space of just three minutes. Davis loved the way the team channeled a negative into a positive and believes the memory of last Saturday’s response to adversity is something the Dynamo need to cherish as they head down the stretch.
“Experience, attitude, desire not to lose. You can’t necessarily pull that out of each and every single player, but out here in this sport, in this business, you’ve got to hate to lose,” the midfielder told reporters at Houston Sports Park. He was also delighted by the team’s spirit in the 3-1 win over Sporting Kansas City earlier this month.
“The game’s not going to be perfect all the time, you’re not [always] going to play pretty soccer. We have a team that likes to play some good soccer, I think we’ve played some really good ball this year at points this season, but we needed to get back to winning an ugly game, fighting, knowing that we can get through those ugly moments.
“You’re going to have ugly moments in a season, how can you continue to get points and win games and win ugly? It happens all around the league all the time and we needed to get to that point.”
For Davis, the Montreal comeback was one of the defining moments of the season, given that the Dynamo are playing catchup in the Eastern Conference and can ill afford to drop points, especially at home.
“When you finally sit back and realize we were at nine games, there’s only X amount of points and only X amount of things you can do, are we going to do it or are we not going to do it? For me, and the guys, we responded well — let’s do it, what are we waiting for, come on. We got scored on, big deal, it’s going to happen again — so how are we going to respond to it?” said Davis.
With time running out it was proof that the team has the ability and determination to challenge for the playoffs — but the match was just one of several more big battles to come, and for last week’s win to be meaningful the team has to show its mettle again this Saturday against a strong Columbus side.
After Saturday’s clash the Dynamo will have seven regular-season matches left (three at home) but they do have a game in hand over the teams currently occupying third through sixth places in the Eastern Conference standings. At the very top, D.C. United and Sporting Kansas City have only six fixtures to play but look close to clinching a postseason berth.
The vital nature of the Montreal victory was made clear in subsequent days as most of the teams in front of Houston collected three points to reestablish their advantages over the Dynamo and underline the high stakes when the Crew come to town.
“It’s a very important game with the [way] results are going right now. When we’re losing the teams in front of us are losing, now when we’re winning the teams in front of us are winning. So this is definitely a game that is very important to keep us tight. It’s not going to get us over the red line but it’s going to keep us close and on the verge of doing that,” said Davis. “We’re stepping on the field taking this mindset right now of absolutely having to walk away from these games with the full points.”
The Crew have signed former English Premier League defender and Austrian international Emmanuel Pogatetz to boost their central defense, but he is not expected to start in Houston as he builds up fitness.
Houston welcome back right back Kofi Sarkodie after he missed the Impact match through suspension but the Houston Methodist injury report lists striker Will Bruin (right foot sprain) and defender Jermaine Taylor (concussion) as out, along with long-term knee injury victims Tally Hall, Tony Cascio and Mark Sherrod. All five were also absent against Montreal.
Houston beat the Crew 1-0 at BBVA Compass Stadium in May but lost 3-0 to them on the road last month. Missing Designated Player DaMarcus Beasley, who had a minor injury, the Dynamo started promisingly enough in Ohio but went behind to a Justin Meram goal after 35 minutes and were unable to respond in the second half, conceding twice more around the hour mark. Yet the visitors ended up with nine shots to the Crew’s eight, and Gregg Berhalter’s side scored with their only three attempts on target.
Given the team’s markedly improved performances and results since key players such as Davis and Boniek García returned from the World Cup, the lackluster second half felt like an outlier. The fixtures list has handed the Dynamo the chance to show they can do better against one of their key playoff rivals only three weeks later.
“It’s a motivator. I thought in that game 1-0 at halftime wasn’t a bad spot to be in. Obviously they took advantage of their chances and we had a couple and we didn’t, then the second half they came out and played better than us. We know their personnel pretty well, I’m sure they know ours,” said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear.
“The focus really has to be on yourself, and the motivating factors, there’s two — the last time we played them they played pretty good and we didn’t and secondly if you look at the standings we have a chance to get closer.”
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.