Three weeks ago, the Columbus Crew welcomed the Houston Dynamo to Columbus Crew Stadium and walked out with a 3-0 win. Since that point, the Black and Gold lost 2-0 on the road to the Montreal Impact and beat Chivas USA 3-0. Now they take to the road again to face Houston in a battle of the tight Eastern Conference.
The Dynamo have kept things tight by earning two wins in a row after the disappointment in Columbus. They went on the road and defeated Sporting Kansas City following the loss to the Crew and beat Montreal 3-2 at home. Houston sits five points back of the final playoff spot, currently occupied by the Black and Gold.
Before watching the game, take a look here to get an idea of what you need to know about this game.
Questions for Dynamo Theory
Massive Report: Just a few weeks ago, Columbus dismantled Houston 3-0. What did you see from Houston that allowed them to be pulled apart so easily by the Crew? As someone who watches the team on a regular basis, was it what Columbus did or what the Dynamo didn't do
that caused that result?
Dynamo Theory: The Dynamo have been a poor team on the road all season, but when discussing this match and assigning cause to such a beat down, it has to be (and usually is always) because of the performances of both teams. First, the Dynamo had a handful of opportunities to get on the score sheet but couldn't finish for one reason or another. The Dynamo also hurt themselves with poor marking and bad giveaways which directly led to goals against them. Still, credit must be given for the high level of service that Columbus was providing in that game. Scoring two headers from the run of play is not very easy to do especially with David Horst patrolling the central defense.
MR: Since last these two teams met, a bit of an injury bug has hit Houston. Who should Crew fans not expect to see and how do their absences change how the Dynamo will play on Saturday?
DT: Yes, the injury bug is biting again in Houston (and it isn't just the mosquitoes). Tally Hall ruptured his ACL in our win over Sporting Kansas City so he will definitely not feature in this match. Instead, backup goalkeeper Tyler Deric will be starting in goal. Deric has been with the Dynamo since the Pat Onstad years and is a starting caliber keeper. Defender Jermaine Taylor missed out last week with concussion symptoms and he will be monitored day to day. Dynamo leading goal scorer Will Bruin also missed last week's fixture with foot sprain, an injury that had been nagging him a bit. Out of Taylor and Bruin, I'm more optimistic about Bruin's return simply because concussions are always nasty.
MR: I know Brad Davis was a member of the U.S. Men's National team in Brazil, but I feel like he goes under the radar in MLS somewhat. Despite missing the time during the World Cup, he has four goals and a team-high nine assists, good enough for sixth in the league. How much does Davis mean to Houston and how important is it for Columbus to neutralize the 32-year old?
DT: Brad Davis is the life of the team. When he's on the pitch, the players around him are more confident and play better. He's that kind of player and leader. Despite his age, the last year or so he's really buckled down on upping his fitness. He's arguably in the best shape of his life now and continues to be able to compete with the best exemplified by his inclusion in the USMNT for the World Cup. Everyone knows (or should know) about Davis's deft left foot and his precision on set pieces, but his work during the run of play is equally dangerous. It is incredibly important for Columbus to pressure Davis to make quick passes with the ball because the longer he has the ball at his feet, then the more time he has to make opportunities for himself or others.
Questions for Massive Report
Dynamo Theory: I think it's quite clear that this is a big game for both teams. With a win, the Dynamo gain ground towards that final playoff spot. For the Crew, 3 points means a better seed and it puts some space between them and the hungry teams beneath them. While the Crew have been one of the more dominant teams in recent weeks, their road form remains an issue for them as they've notched only 3 of their 9 wins on the road (1 road win better than the Dynamo). How does the Crew remedy that in a relatively tough place to play?
Massive Report: I think it will be really interesting to see how the Crew do on the road in this game. The Black and Gold had two great home wins - 4-1 over the LA Galaxy and the 3-0 win over Houston - before going on the road to take on the Montreal Impact. Everyone involved with the Crew expected a similar performance, but they didn't exactly replicate that.
I think there are two things that are important going into this one and they go hand-in-hand. The first is the pace of play. Generally Columbus is better when a game is going faster and everyone is moving. Teams that have had success against the Crew, home or away, have slowed the game down and gotten numbers behind the ball. Second is the first goal. The Black and Gold are 7-1-2 this season when they open the scoring and only 2-8-5 when they concede first. With the way head coach Gregg Berhalter wants to play, it is much easier to control the game and possess the ball when leading rather than chasing the game.
If they can keep the pace of the game high and get the first goal, there is a good chance Columbus can leave Houston with a result. If not, that road record will likely get worse.
DT: The Crew just recently signed Austrian defender Emanuel Pogatetz to help keep things together in the back. How does he compare to former Crew defender Giancarlo Gonzalez who recently signed with Palermo? Could we see Pogatetz play against the Dynamo?
MR: To be honest, the comparison between Pogatetz and Gonzalez stops with them both being center backs, as they are rather different as players. Pogatetz's nickname is Mad Dog due to his rugged and aggressive style. When Berhalter described him, it almost sounded like an enforcer in hockey and that is similar to what I remember of his time at Middlesbrough.
Gonzalez on the other hand was a smooth defender. He had a knack of being at the right place at the right time and making the clean tackle. While he could be fiery, it wasn't often reflected in his play. This is not to say that Pogatetz will be constantly in the referee's book, but he plays with a bit more reckless abandon.
In terms of seeing him this weekend, I would highly doubt it. Berhalter said today he's hopeful Pogatetz arrives on Thursday (there were some issues at the embassy) so it would be a tough ask for him to suit up in Houston two days later. Berhalter also said he thinks it will take him a couple of weeks to get acclimatized to the Crew's style of play, but was quick to say he will contribute this year.
DT: The Crew has scored 10 goals in 4 games including an embarrassing 3-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo. Justin Meram has been a huge part of this scoring surge as he's found the net 6 times in his last 5 games. How important is it for the Dynamo to slow or stop Meram and the Crew's other offensive weapons in this game?
MR: This may go without saying, but I don't think Houston can win if they don't at least slow down the Columbus attack on Saturday. The goals have been flowing recently, but the Black and Gold were shutout against Montreal last time they took to the road.
Meram certainly has been the hot hand recently, but he is not the only dangerous player for the Crew. Obviously Federico Higuain is always a threat to score. Ethan Finlay opposite Meram was on a tear earlier this season and although he his scoring pace has slowed down over the last several games, he continues to get in dangerous positions. Both Bernardo Anor and Hector Jimenez are nearly fully fit and either, or both, should see time this weekend. Both of them have proven capable of finding the back of the net. The Crew will also get back their central midfield pairing of Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani this week, after they both were suspended with yellow card accumulation last game. Neither has scored this season, but Tchani has recently been dangerous on set pieces (about time with his build) and Trapp's passing certainly helps generate attacks.
You may have noticed I mentioned no forwards in that mix. That's simply because we haven't seen the goal scoring threat from them this year. Jairo Arrieta was the man early, but he wasn't consistent enough. Adam Bedell was leading the line for several games, but had an appendectomy last Sunday. Aaron Schoenfeld scored at will while on loan with the USL Pro's Dayton Dutch Lions and has demonstrated the ability to do it at the MLS level, but it is about consistency with him as well. If the Dynamo focus on some of the other guys, a forward may be able to get one, but that has not been the main threat this year.