It has only been three weeks since the last meeting between the Houston Dynamo and the Columbus Crew. That game ended 3-0 in favor of the Black and Gold and was one of the more disappointing losses of the season for the Dynamo.
It was a win that helped propel the Crew into a playoff position and set Houston back. Since then, Columbus have gone 1-1, with a 2-0 road loss to the Montreal Impact and a 3-0 home victory over Chivas USA. The Dynamo meanwhile have won both of their matches since the loss in Columbus, 3-1 on the road against Sporting Kansas City and 3-2 at home to the Impact.
The game will be big for both teams, who are locked in a tight race for an Eastern Conference playoff spot and midfielder Ethan Finlay and the Crew are looking to capitalize.
"It's a huge opportunity for us," Finlay said. "I think they obviously know that.
"After coming off a 3-0 result, you don't want to get too confident, but I think we match up well against them. I think our style of soccer up against theirs matches up well."
The Crew will see a slightly different team than they saw a few weeks ago. Houston lost goalkeeper Tally Hall to an ACL tear against Kansas City and has been replaced by long-time backup Tyler Deric. Despite being in the league since 2009, Deric has only made six appearances, five starts, in his career.
The Dynamo may also be without defender Jermaine Taylor, who missed last week's game with a concussion, and leading scorer Will Bruin with a nagging foot sprain. Columbus defender Tyson Wahl believes they will see a different team for other reasons.
"I do think that teams have heated up in these past two or three weeks so I think we're going to see a different Houston team," Wahl said.
"Not in terms of personnel necessarily, just in terms of, I think the intensity has risen. Now it's mid September and things are really heating up. Especially going in there, they're going to come out flying. I think we need to get ready this week to prepare for more of a playoff type atmosphere."
DaMarcus Beasley was a big midseason signing for the Dynamo, but did not play in the last game against the Crew. Beasley should get the start against the Black and Gold in this contest, which will give Houston more experience along their back line.
No matter the personnel, the Black and Gold want to continue to do what they have done all season. They intend to possess the ball, control the tempo, and find space to attack the men in orange.
"Really, I don't think we've changed anything this year," Finlay said. "From start to finish, we've had the same type of mindset. There's been some slight adjustments here and there with a little bit of personnel but we're still going to play the possession soccer that we play."
This game will be in Houston, where the Crew have traditionally struggled and lost 1-0 earlier this year. The games there are always hot due to the climate, but Wahl believes his team has to fight through that.
"It's just something you have to prepare for," he said earlier this week.
"It's been a hot summer here, so hopefully we're used to the humidity but it's definitely probably the hottest place with their humidity and everything they play at. Just a mental challenge to get through. We can't use it as an excuse."
Columbus hopes that a September date and an 8:30 kickoff time will allow for a cooler temperature than the last meeting.
As Finlay said, this is a big opportunity for the Crew in what is essentially a six point game.