Houston Dynamo and Chicago Fire meet with playoff fates hanging in the balance

The Dynamo host the MLS draw specialists on Sunday knowing that both teams will be going all-out for victory with time running out to catch the sides above.

Summer officially turned to fall on September 23, another reminder that the 2014 regular-season is quickly coming to a close. Houston are unbeaten in their past four games, but two successive draws has the team urgently seeking a win that will keep their playoff ambitions alive.

Sunday afternoon’s visitors to BBVA Compass Stadium, the Chicago Fire (2 p.m. CT; TICKETS) sit ninth in the Eastern Conference with five wins — but that does not mean Frank Yallop’s side are easy to beat. A remarkable 16 of their 28 games have been ties. Another in their next six fixtures and they will break the MLS season record for ties — the Fire and the New York Red Bulls also drew 16 times in 2011.

In an indicator of how competitive and tightly-matched the East has been this year, teams have tied on average 8.2 times, exceeding last year’s average total of 8 with five or six matches left to play.

“They’ve had ties in all kinds of fashions, where they probably should have walked out with three points, and sometimes they’ve come in and snuck a tie,” said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear of Chicago.

Both assessments seem valid for the Fire’s previous game, a wild 3-3 tie with Eastern Conference-leading D.C. United. Chicago went 2-0 up, then 3-2 down, but rallied to grab a point with a 78th-minute equalizer.

The Fire are without injured talisman Mike Magee but speedy forward Quincy Amarikwa, who opened the scoring against D.C., has a team-leading eight MLS goals this year. “I think Quincy Amarikwa’s had a good season for them, leads the line well, strong, scores some good goals, he’s active; the kid [Harry] Shipp underneath I think is a pretty smart player who’s had a good first year,” Kinnear said.

“You look at the back four, really experienced … and Sean Johnson [in goal]. So it’s the makings of a good team, it’s just a season full of ties for them.” Defender Bakary Soumare will miss the game after the MLS disciplinary committee handed him a one-match suspension on Thursday for an incident during the D.C. encounter. Right back, and former Dynamo, Lovel Palmer will also be absent because of a ban. But Houston may have to contend with new Fire signing Florent Sinama-Pongolle. The former Liverpool forward came off the bench for his debut last week.

With the Dynamo seven points below fifth place and the Fire two points worse off — both have a game in hand on the Columbus Crew, who currently occupy that prized position — Sunday’s opponents are sure to come to East Downtown in search of victory, which could make for an open, end-to-end game.

Columbus, the Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC, three teams in the Dynamo’s sights, all play on Saturday. So by kickoff time at BBVA Compass Stadium, Kinnear’s men will have a clearer picture of how a victory would influence the standings.

It’s been more than twelve months since Houston and Chicago last faced off. Even though the regular season has less than a month to run, this is the first meeting of the teams in 2014. The Dynamo conclude with the return fixture at Toyota Park on October 24. After Sunday, the Dynamo’s 2014 campaign has two regular-season home matches remaining: against D.C. on October 12 and the New England Revolution four days later.

Despite injuries the Dynamo have played some of their best soccer of the season in recent weeks and captain Brad Davis says the players’ confidence is high. “Mathematically we’re still in it, six games left. We’ve got to get points — got to get wins. We know that we’re still in it, attitude’s good, this has always been a team that’s not going to stop till it’s over,” he said.

“We still feel like there is a chance and if we go out and win some games … we have put together a decent streak of games here, getting some results. We wish it could have been earlier in the year we were doing this but it is what it is. You have to keep the mentality. Negativity’s going to get you nowhere so we have to keep the mentality positive, keep in good form, keep working hard and we have another great chance here on Sunday against a team, Chicago, that’s coming off a tough result themselves and having a tough year.”

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.