HOUSTON – The Houston Dynamo walked off the field at Stade Saputo in Montreal on August 24, trying to process what just happened.
A 5-0 loss to the Montreal Impact, the worst loss in Houston club history, left the Dynamo questioning themselves. That game was part of a four-game stretch in MLS play that included a 4-1 home loss to the New York Red Bulls and sent their playoff hopes reeling.
Fast forward six weeks, and Houston have turned things around. The club has responded with a three-game MLS unbeaten streak, including a 1-0-1 mark on the road, to put themselves firmly in the playoff hunt.
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Still, deep wounds heal slowly, and the August 24 loss has not left the players' memories. With Houston set to host Montreal tonight at BBVA Compass Stadium (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE) and third place in the Eastern Conference at stake, the Dynamo are carrying the weight of that historically bad night with them into Friday’s clash.
“It was terrible,” left back Corey Ashe said of the feeling after the loss to the Impact. “The last game – getting beat by that many goals – is fresh in our minds. After the last result we had when we were up there, we look forward to beating them at home.”
Looking back at that loss, everything that the Dynamo pride themselves on – being physical, cutting off looks at goal, imposing their will – was missing, and Montreal took advantage. The Impact hit Houston with a precision attack, carving them up with sharp passes, pinpoint runs and quality finishes.
“We always give it our all; I won’t say we gave up, because we didn’t, but everything went wrong in a quick span,” Ashe said. “To lose in that fashion is not what the Dynamo’s about. We know it’s going to be a battle [Friday]. We’ll use that as motivation and to try and get the W.”
As happened last year, when Houston suffered a multi-goal loss to Montreal on the road, emotions will be at a high tonight when Houston look to return the favor. They initially avenged last year's loss with a 3-0 home win in July, but Montreal earned a 1-1 tie in Houston in early October last year.
This time, Houston's first chance at revenge comes with a lot more at stake: A win would mean sole possession of third place in the Eastern Conference, something that did not look possible back in August. With such a rocky regular-season history against the Impact (Montreal leads the series 3-1-1, including a 3-0 mark in Canada), a win tonight could give Houston confidence heading into the postseason.
“Having good results against teams in the regular season gives you confidence for playoffs,” goalkeeper Tally Hall said. “It doesn’t always hold true … You know you’ve got to come and perform, but it is nice to be able to say we know how to beat them; we know how to break them down.”
To do that, head coach Dominic Kinnear is choosing to focus on winning the midfield battle and controlling the game with pressure and poise.
“Closing down their space and winning that midfield and making sure we’re on top of second balls,” offered Kinnear as keys to winning Friday night. “You have to get physical against these guys, because they have guys, given time and space, that are good players.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.