With less than three weeks left in their 2014 campaign, the Dynamo head into a hectic three-game stretch vowing to keep fighting for a playoff place for as long as possible.
Last Saturday’s 1-0 road defeat to the New York Red Bulls turned an uphill task into a mountainous climb for Dominic Kinnear’s side, who are seven points adrift of fifth-placed Columbus Crew with four matches left.
The Dynamo realistically now need to pick up maximum points in their remaining fixtures while several teams above them stumble. Winger Andrew Driver is staying optimistic that Houston can produce a string of wins to keep their season alive.
“There’s always hope until it’s mathematically impossible … we have to win every game. We’ve just got to go in [with the] mindset that it’s a cup final in every game,” he told reporters at Houston Sports Park on Tuesday.
The Dynamo are sure to gain ground on one side with a win on Wednesday night: they are away to Toronto FC (6:30 p.m. CT, CSN Houston). Victory at BMO Field will lift Houston above the Philadelphia Union into seventh in the Eastern Conference standings, one point below the Canadians.
Then the Dynamo host the clubs currently occupying first and second place in the standings, D.C. United (October 12, 2 p.m. CT) and the New England Revolution (October 16, 7 p.m. CT), before concluding on the road to the Chicago Fire (October 24).
“We can’t give up, we’ve got to continue to be professional,” said Driver. “There’s three or four teams that still think they’ve got a great chance of making it. The most important thing is the battle. Win the battle and you’ve got a great chance of winning the game.”
While the Dynamo have only failed to reach the playoffs once since debuting in 2006, Toronto are aiming to reach the MLS postseason for the first time in eight attempts.
Houston and Toronto met twice in the space of a week in July and both skirmishes were goal-laden, especially in the first 45 minutes. The Dynamo raced into a 2-0 lead at BMO Field courtesy of a Brad Davis double but were pegged back before the break and went on to lose, 4-2. One of Toronto’s Designated Players, former Tottenham Hotspur striker Jermain Defoe, scored twice in the second half.
Back at BBVA Compass Stadium seven days later, Houston twice held the advantage but the visitors fought back and secured a 2-2 tie.
Kinnear will have to cope without three regular starters in Toronto: midfielders Luis Garrido and Boniek García have been called up by Honduras for their games against Mexico and the United States, while the Dynamo announced on Tuesday that defender Jermaine Taylor is in the Jamaica squad to face Japan on Friday in Niigata, about 200 miles north of Tokyo.
Garrido and García will also miss the weekend’s match at BBVA Compass Stadium against D.C. but the Dynamo are hopeful that Taylor will return in time to be available for Sunday.
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The loss at Red Bull Arena ended a five-game unbeaten streak. “Everyone knew the ramifications. I think we gave a decent showing, it’s just that at this stage of the season you need the wins and obviously it didn’t come for us which is massively disappointing,” Driver said.
“We rode our luck at times but towards the end of the game I felt we were probably the more positive team, had a couple of chances which is probably expected when you’re 1-0 down but I felt throughout the game we did fairly well, it just obviously wasn’t good enough on the day.”
With both teams desperate for victory on Wednesday, it should be an open contest. Driver is expecting an intense night but does not believe the Dynamo will radically alter their tactics. “We go into every game trying to attack so I think there won’t be much different in the way we approach things. It’s just that towards the end of the season the games have that extra little bit of bite because there’s so much riding on it,” he said.