Wednesday evening is quite literally the biggest night of the season for the Houston Dynamo as they host arch-rival FC Dallas in the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup. After a loss to the LA Galaxy over the weekend, the season is over and the playoffs out of reach. There is still the Wooden Spoon to avoid, but the real prize still on the table is the Open Cup. If they can manage to continue their good run of form against Dallas, a match against either the Seattle Sounders or Galaxy awaits in the semi-final.
Oscar Pareja’s side is coming off a 3 – 1 home win against Chicago on Saturday, meaning they’ll have one less day to rest up. This game will be the third in just a week, with a trip up to Denver awaiting them on Saturday as well. Dallas tossed out a severely weakened side in Seattle and were hammered by a familiar scoreline last Wednesday in preparation for this game. Despite a busy schedule, they can’t be taken lightly,
MLS All-Star Mauro Diaz will be leading the offensive charge, but he’ll have to contend with a revamped Dynamo defense that Dallas has yet to face this season. Despite his accolades (and well deserved, too) he hasn’t had much success against Houston. So far Dallas has only managed a single goal in two previous meetings while giving up six. Since the last encounter in Frisco over a month ago, the defense has been turned into a stubborn line that is extremely hard to break down. To break them down will require superb passing and patience on the part of Diaz and the offense.
If Dallas was scheduled to face anyone other than the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, it’s likely Pareja would give Houston everything he has in this game. Unfortunately while his team leads the Supporters Shield standings by three points, the Rapids have three games in hand and losing on Saturday could mean that trophy slips away from them.
Even with a mixed roster, Dallas has plenty of raw talent and youthful energy that will serve them well in the heat and humidity at BBVA Compass Stadium. The key will be to put a goal or two on the board in the first half before the travel and heat combine to slow their game down late in the game. If they end up chasing the game into the second half, they will be ripe for a counter attacking goal. Unlike in league games this season, that hasn’t been a problem for Houston.
There is some speculation that Will Bruin might get the start up top against Dallas after he was benched against the Galaxy on Friday. Normally Mauro Manotas has lead the front line in the Open Cup and done so quite successfully. A change in that position would be troubling as Bruin hasn’t been so successful this season while Manotas has scored three goals so far, including a brace against Sporting KC in the previous round.
To help bolster the midfield, Wade Barrett has called up midfielder Charlie Ward from Rio Grande Valley Toros. This is the second player brought up from RGV as TJ Casner made his debut against San Antonio FC in the 4th round. Ward is a product of the Stoke City and Aston Villa youth systems in England. The 21 year old has been a key cog for the Toros as they’ve pushed their way up to 6th place in the stacked Western Conference. Ward helped the Toros to an impressive 4 – 0 win over Western leaders Vancouver Whitecaps 2 last week.
With a home match on Saturday against the senior Whitecaps, Houston can trot out their best players available for this one and they’ll need to do so. Fabian Castillo was rested against the Sounders and he’ll be looking to get back to his traditional ways of causing havoc against the Dynamo.
For those wondering about how this game works in the battle for El Capitan, it won’t matter unless Dallas manages to defeat the Dynamo later this season by exactly five goals. In that case, the winner of this game will take home the cannon as the tie-breaker.
Despite the playoffs being out of reach for Houston and their generally “meh” form over the past few weeks, this game is very winnable. Manotas will push the Dynamo to victory late in the game (2 – 1) to advance to the semi-finals. Even with some heavy legs, it’s hard to see Houston keeping Dallas off the board but they’ll score first before the visitors tie things up.