OUT: DF Eddie Robinson (L knee surgery) ... COLUMBUS CREW -- OUT: FW Pat Noonan (lower back strain)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: HOU: Kei Kamara (through March 28)
ALL-TIME (6 meetings): Dynamo 2 wins, 7 goals ... Crew 1 wins, 5 goals ... Ties 3
AT HOUSTON (3 meetings): Dynamo 1 win, 4 goals ... Crew 0 wins, 2 goals ... Ties 2
RETURN MATCH: 9/13: Houston Dynamo at Columbus Crew, 5 p.m. ET
LAST YEAR (MLS):
4/26: CLB 1, HOU 0 (Moreno 22)
8/2: HOU 2, CLB 0 (Davis 13; Ching 43)
Last year's Crew victory at home was their first ever against the Dynamo, after three draws and a single Houston victory in the two seasons preceding.
The Crew have never won in Houston, though the Dynamo had not defeated Columbus at home until last season's 2-0 victory.
Coaches record: Dominic Kinnear v NE: P10 W4 L3 D3 ... Robert Warzycha vs. HOU: first game
HOUSTON DYNAMOThe Houston Dynamo are looking to get off to a good start and put 2008 behind them, a season when they saw their bid for a first-ever MLS "three-peat" come crashing down in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs. Still, it's a familiar group in Houston - coach Dominic Kinnear is the only coach the club has ever known since its move to south Texas.
The Dynamo completed their preseason campaign with a 2-2 draw against Chivas USA on March 13 at The Home Depot Center. Chivas USA twice took leads, through Atiba Harris (43) and Shavar Thomas (63), only to be pegged back each time by Chris Wondolowski (46) and Brad Davis (76).
Here's Dominic Kinnear's team: Pat Onstad, Richard Mulrooney, Bobby Boswell, Julius James (Chris Wondolowski 46), Wade Barrett, Geoff Cameron, Ricardo Clark (Corey Ashe 80), Stuart Holden, Brad Davis, Brian Ching (Kei Kamara 80), Brian Mullan
The Dynamo are the only MLS team to have actually played competitive matches, though they were knocked out of the CONCACAF Champions League by Atlante FC of Mexico. The teams played to a 1-1 draw Feb. 24 in Houston as the Mexican side scored a late equalizer, then Atlante won 3-0 in the return match in Cancun.
"I think the first game is very important in a way that it can build confidence," Kinnear said. "The preseason (went) well, but we are not thrilled with how things went down in Mexico. The results were one way and the way we played were another and I think they kind of went hand in hand."
The Dynamo received a blow in the days leading up to the opener when forward Kei Kamara was suspended for two matches after an incident with an MLS officiating crew, following his ejection from a preseason game against the San Jose Earthquakes.
"It's unfortunate, but we get punished with him missing two games and it's not something we wanted to start the season," said Kinnear. "It hurts because it takes away from our depth and it takes away from our forward line."
In the final preseason match, Brian Mullan started up top alongside Brian Ching, with Geoff Cameron playing wide on the right of midfield. Chris Wondolowski is also an option to start in attack.
"Losing Kei hurts us a lot because Wondo hasn't had as much experience as Kei, but if you've watched our last few practices and scrimmages, Wondo's done really well and he could be a big factor for us this year," Ching said.
The Dynamo will also a different look in the season opener with two long-time regulars missing. Dwayne De Rosario was traded to Toronto FC in the offseason for defender Julius James - who ironically will start in central defense in place of Eddie Robinson, who is recovering from knee surgery.
"It should be an interesting season," center back Bobby Boswell said. "We had some key guys leave, one of them is injured, but I know there will be guys ready to step up. We're going out there to win, and we know what we have to do. This is a very experienced group."
For the Dynamo, getting off to a quick start is a focus this season. In 2008, Houston lost twice and drew three to begin the season; in 2007, they won just twice (with one draw) in their first eight games.
"In years past we have struggled offensively as a team. Our set pieces are huge for our team. As a defender, I can say that for the last couple of years, the first half of the season our defenders haven't contributed much offensively and it takes a lot from our offense if our backline isn't pushing forward correctly," Craig Waibel said. "I think the big thing for us is to attack as an 11 early in the season as opposed to six going forward and four in the back -- because that's what happens as the season goes on and we get more comfortable and attack as a unit."
COLUMBUS CREWThe Columbus Crew kick off 2009 coming off a fantastic season when they won the Supporters' Shield for the second time in club history, then capped it with a 3-1 win in MLS Cup 2008 against the New York Red Bulls. After leading the Crew all the way back, coach Sigi Schmid took the job with expansion Seattle Sounders FC, so Robert Warzycha steps into the position with nearly the entire championship team back.
The Crew completed their preseason schedule with a 1-0 loss to the USL First Division Austin Aztex on March 14 in Austin. Eddie Johnson scored the game's lone goal in the 26th minute; the Crew finished the game a man down after Gino Padula was sent off in the 35th minute.
Here's Robert Warzycha's team: William Hesmer, Frankie Hejduk, Chad Marshall, Danny O'Rourke, Gino Padula, Eddie Gaven (Jed Zayner 76), Brian Carroll, Emmanuel Ekpo (Kevin Burns 62), Alex Grendi (Cory Elenio 62), Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Steven Lenhart 74), Alejandro Moreno
Before returning to the USA and heading to Texas, the Crew had a successful week-long tour of England, which included a pair of exhibition victories against Premiership reserve side, defeating Liverpool FC's reserves 2-0 and Everton FC's reserves 5-1.
After opening their preseason with a 2-1 victory against D.C. United Feb. 10 in Bradenton, Fla., the Black-and-Gold did not face MLS competition again over the remainder of the schedule.
The Crew are expected to have almost the identical team to start the season as played in the MLS Cup Final in November. Ten of the 11 starters are expected to the same - the only difference Brad Evans, who was selected by Seattle Sounders FC in the expansion draft.
Evans took over as a starter at midseason for Adam Moffat, who suffered a knee injury. Moffat was hoped to be ready to regain his place to start the 2009 season, but the length of his recovery means Emmanuel Ekpo will likely start in the driving central midfield role.
"It's important now that Manu becomes a box-to-box player and covers as much space as some other guys have in the past," forward Alejandro Moreno said. "Manu is a different player than, say, Brad Evans at the end of the season or even Adam Moffat earlier last year. He's a more technical player, perhaps a guy more offensive oriented. It will take some time for us to get a rhythm but when Manu's quick with the ball and when he allows us to change the point of attack with some speed and a change of pace then we become very dangerous. The more he does that and the more he allows us to get balls into the space the better off we'll be."
Of course, the other major change from the championship-winning team is in the backroom staff, where Robert Warzycha takes over for Sigi Schmid as head coach - another who moved to the expansion Sounders FC.
"We have real humble players. Everyone is still working really hard. It feels kind of the same as last year," Robbie Rogers said. "Bobby's done a good job at bringing in guys and keeping guys together that will work hard for each other and that are not content just with that trophy last year so I think we have a great group of core players and I'm excited for the league to start. Playing with the silver ball (as MLS Cup champions) is a target on our back. It will be interesting to see how teams come out against us compared to last year."