Maybe … just, maybe.
The Dynamo still have a lot of ground to make up in a short space of time, but are entering a two-game homestand with renewed hope after the defiant 1-0 win over Toronto FC on Wednesday that kept postseason ambitions alive and raised the stakes for this weekend’s clash.
Houston welcome D.C. United to BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday (2 p.m. CT; TICKETS), then host the New England Revolution four days later (7 p.m. CT; TICKETS) before ending their regular season on the road to the Chicago Fire on October 24.
The team rebounded from losing to the New York Red Bulls last Saturday with a stubborn defensive display in Ontario which lifted them to seventh in the standings — level on points with the Philadelphia Union but above them on the first tiebreaker: number of wins.
“Now it gives us a good chance, we have jumped I think Philadelphia and pulled right up next to Toronto here. So we are still within a good chance of making this and that’s all we ask ourselves,” Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear told the media after the game.
Even at this late stage in the year, the race for the last two Eastern Conference playoff spots is tight and contains the potential for dramatic changes. For example, had the scoreline from the Dynamo’s 1-0 defeat on the road to the Red Bulls last Saturday been reversed, Kinnear’s side would be sitting in a playoff place right now and the Red Bulls would be on the outside looking in.
That is the Dynamo’s only defeat in their past seven games. But all the team can do is put aside the “what ifs” and focus on what they can control: getting wins on the field in their final three games, starting this Sunday.
That will be no easy task for a Houston side missing key players and facing conference-leading D.C. United, who are the only East team to have already clinched a postseason berth. Ben Olsen’s team could potentially seal first place with a win at BBVA Compass Stadium, though it’s not been a happy hunting ground for them. United have played five fixtures at the Dynamo’s downtown home and lost them all.
Most recently, the Dynamo stole the points in second-half stoppage time as Will Bruin pounced on a defensive error to claim a 1-0 win on August 3. Bruin has not played since August 29 because of injury but his usual strike partner Giles Barnes delivered the only goal of the game at BMO Field with a powerful run and shot from an acute angle. It was Barnes’s ninth goal of the season, matching his team-leading total from 2014. He is one behind Bruin this year for the team lead.
“It will keep us in the playoff race. I thought the team was fantastic. A massive three points on the road. It was a great team performance with a man down as well,” Barnes told reporters.
Rookie defender AJ Cochran was sent off in the 55th minute for a foul in the penalty box but the outstanding Tyler Deric saved Jermain Defoe’s penalty. The goalkeeper came up big, with six saves on the night, as the shorthanded visitors withstood a barrage of Toronto attacks late on.
It means the Dynamo have conceded only once in their past four matches, but they will be without the suspended Cochran on Sunday and hoping Jermaine Taylor makes it back from Japan in time for the game. The veteran defender played the full 90 minutes for Jamaica on Friday in Niigata in a 1-0 defeat to Japan.
Kinnear could alternatively turn to Eric Brunner, who came off the bench on Wednesday to replenish the back four after Cochran’s exit for his first action in two-and-a-half months.
But the Dynamo are prepared to be without Honduran international midfielders Boniek García and Luis Garrido for the second match in a row. Both started for Honduras in Thursday’s 2-0 friendly loss to Mexico and are in the squad to face the U.S. in Florida on Tuesday.
With the game against D.C. the only Eastern Conference match scheduled for Sunday, the Dynamo will be interested observers a day earlier as four teams immediately around them in the standings meet each other: the Union host the Columbus Crew and the Red Bulls are at home to Toronto.
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.