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Wilf Thorne/Houston Dynamo

Houston Dynamo hope Alberth Elis' return can spark renewal in Texas Derby

Houston Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera hopes the return of Alberth Elis will give his fading team a much-needed spark when they host FC Dallas on Thursday (8 p.m. CT | TICKETS).

There’s more than just Texas pride riding on the Heineken Rivalry Week clash. Dallas are seeking to maintain their leadership of the Western Conference, while the Dynamo need to halt a dramatic slide that has left them in acute danger of missing the postseason.

Elis has nine goals and eight assists on the season – second-best on the roster in both categories – and the team slipped to losses against Columbus Crew SC and Real Salt Lake during his two-game disciplinary suspension.

In his absence, the Dynamo’s other key attackers – Mauro Manotas, Romell Quioto and Tomás Martínez – were not able to deliver any assists or goals, with Quioto missing two golden opportunities in last Saturday’s 2-1 home loss to RSL.

Cabrera said on Tuesday that Elis is eager to get back to action.

“I hope it’s a very good boost, we’ll see,” the head coach told reporters. “Keep him on the field and just try to bring what he brings to our team – which is speed, diagonals, aggressive, trying to score goals and trying to assist.”

A team that was one step away from MLS Cup last season before losing to the Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference Championship faces a real risk of finishing outside the playoffs this time. With 10 games left the Dynamo sit 10th in the West, 10 points adrift of sixth place thanks to a run of five successive league losses.

Defeat against their Texas Derby rivals from the other end of Interstate 45 would set a club-record MLS losing streak. Last weekend Cabrera’s side equaled that unwanted mark from 2014 in bizarre fashion, when they entered stoppage time with a 1-0 lead yet contrived to lose. It was a similar story at Columbus on Aug. 11, where they conceded an injury-time winner by Gyasi Zardes to fall 1-0 to Crew SC.

The RSL setback meant more points squandered at BBVA Compass Stadium. Last season the Dynamo lost just once at home in MLS en route to their surprise playoff appearance. But this year, with five defeats out of 13 fixtures, what was a fortress is now more like an open house. Only the Chicago Fire have lost more times at home than Houston this season.

And a club that has historically relied on its home form has only four league games left at BBVA Compass Stadium.

“We have to win all the games at home. And that was the mentality against Real Salt Lake. Until the 93rd minute we were winning, even though we played really badly – we should recognize that it was a day that we didn’t play well,” Cabrera said.

“It’s unacceptable from our side because we have to continue fighting, we cannot give up,” he added. “Mostly we’ve been winning, then we allow the teams to come back and that’s something that just shows that we stop. And we cannot stop. You don’t stop playing. You can play well; you can play OK or you can play bad. But you never stop playing, or trying to play. You don’t stop.”

Martínez believes a high-intensity rivalry game is the perfect moment to change the team’s fortunes.

“There’s not many home games left, and we’re low in the table and we need to keep pushing ourselves up. This is a great opportunity to do that,” the Argentinean playmaker said through a translator.