HOUSTON – Friday night’s match against the Portland Timbers could be the one that rubber-stamps Houston into the MLS Cup Playoffs for the fifth time in six years (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
With a Dynamo win and a D.C. United draw or loss against the Chicago Fire on Saturday, the Orange men will move one step closer to clinching a playoff spot. To do that, Houston will have to beat a Timbers team they know a lot about after playing twice already – in preseason and on Aug. 14 in a 2-1 Houston home victory – with familiar faces on both sides.
But there is one unfamiliar factor to deal with: the effects of Portland’s JELD-WEN Field that offers a raucous crowd and a small field prone to set-piece glory.
“We haven’t been there, but from what everyone says, it’s better than most, if not the best, in the league,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear. “I always say that’s the type of environment players want to play in ... it motivates you whether you’re home or away.”
The smaller field puts set-piece execution, both offensively and defensively, at a premium. Portland are exceptionally dangerous from set pieces and pose a number of problems with their service and tall targets; something they have in common with Houston.
The Dynamo have one of the best ball strikers in MLS with Brad Davis and a number of tall targets of their own to take advantage of a field small enough that most set pieces are a potential scoring opportunity.
“They score a lot of goals off set pieces," Davis said, "and knowing [Portland coach John] Spencer, he’s going to be aware of the guys we have on set pieces and he’ll go over them and put an emphasis on not giving those up and we’ll be aware of it for the same reasons. I think there’s going to be a few chances in that area and hopefully it’s us that are going to get on the end of them.”
With the chance to take a firm grip on a potential playoff spot, the only wild card thrown into the equation for Houston is the hostile settings of JELD-WEN Field.
“As a player, these are the games you live for,” Davis said. “It’s going to be loud, there’s a lot of emotion ... because the season rides on [this game] for both sides. It’ll be a playoff atmosphere, and if you can’t get up for this, I don’t think you should be in this sport.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.