No November. The Dynamo’s last home game of 2014 is this Thursday and it is a strange feeling for all connected with the team that their season will end before Halloween for only the second time in the club’s nine-year history.
A hard-fought 3-1 home defeat to D.C. United on Sunday put the Eastern Conference playoffs out of reach, meaning the two-time MLS Cup winners will not be part of the postseason for the first time since 2010.
First, the Dynamo have two more matches to play, starting with the visit of second-placed New England Revolution to BBVA Compass Stadium on Thursday (7 p.m. CT; TICKETS). Pride and a potential sixth-place finish are on the line as Houston bid to end the season with a pair of victories. After New England, Dominic Kinnear’s men close out the year on the road to the Chicago Fire on October 24.
“Obviously when you don’t play and you’re watching the boys giving everything and to go out that way is difficult to swallow, very difficult to swallow. But on the day D.C. was better and they scored their goals at the right moments to win the game,” the left back told reporters afterwards in a subdued Dynamo locker room. “It’s tough to swallow but we just need to regroup and try to get six points and try to end on a very good, high note.”
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The Revolution are the East’s most in-form team, with seven wins and two ties in their past ten MLS matches. But their previous visit to Houston was a humbling experience: they lost 4-0 back in March on the season’s opening day.
If that result seemed to indicate 2014 would be full of promise for the Dynamo, that optimism was gradually eroded during a difficult summer which saw an unprecedented spate of injuries, key players absent on international duty and an eight game winless streak which ultimately left the team with too much ground to make up.
“I don’t think any of us envisioned it when we stepped on the field in the first day of preseason that this would happen but a whole lot of stuff didn’t go our way this year and to not get into the playoffs is a sickening feeling because we’ve had some magical moments here and our playoff record over the years has been fantastic,” Kinnear said in his post-match media conference.
Results improved after the return of Brad Davis and Boniek García from the World Cup and the arrivals of defensive midfielder Luis Garrido and Beasley helped solidify what had been an inconsistent defense forced into making frequent changes at center back. Though the Dynamo have conceded 54 times in 32 matches — fourth-most in MLS — they have also produced ten shutouts, only two fewer than division-leading United.
Since July, the Dynamo own a 6-5-4 record. But the Revolution, the New York Red Bulls and the Columbus Crew also stepped up their results in the second half of the season. The Dynamo’s inability to hold on to a 2-0 halftime lead against Columbus last month (the match ended 2-2) and the 1-0 loss to New York on October 4 were serious setbacks.
But road triumphs such as the 3-1 victory over Sporting Kansas City and last week’s stubborn 1-0 success in Toronto helped keep the playoff dream alive and belatedly demonstrated the team’s potential. Even late in the season the roster was still bitten by the injury bug, as striker Will Bruin missed six games, returning on Sunday for a lively 12-minute cameo.
‘It was a weird year with injuries, World Cup, guys coming in, guys going out,” said Davis. “There was a few games when we only had 15 guys.” Symbolizing the Dynamo’s extreme bad luck with injuries this season, winger Tony Cascio and striker Mark Sherrod have not played since suffering anterior cruciate ligament injuries early in the campaign and goalkeeper Tally Hall fell victim to the same fate in August.
“Three ACLs, that’s just weird, there’s no getting around that, that’s just an odd thing. There’s nothing you can really do, you’ve got to just keep pushing through it,” said Davis. “We’re a team that’s usually continuing to push and actually hitting our stride right now, to be totally honest over the last 11, 12 games we’ve been playing some pretty good ball but we’ve got to continue to do that throughout the year … We’ve got to be better throughout the year and we all know that, so that’s something we obviously have got to work on and be better at and that’s what we plan to do.”
The Dynamo are finishing early — but they intend to finish strong. “We have two games left and this group’s still going to come out and play with heart and play with pride and try and get as many points as we can and finish as high as we can,” said Davis.
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.