A rash of fifteen games in two months with lots of travel and a slight slip of form have plagued the Houston Dynamo of late.
The team that once had a comfortable cushion with the top record in all of MLS now has three different teams in their conference who can pass them. Chivas USA, Colorado and the LA Galaxy can pass Houston for top spot if they win their respective games in hand. The good news for the Dynamo though is that Chivas and LA each must square off against Houston before the year is up.
"We have slipped up and it's been disappointing," said defender Andrew Hainault. "Especially last week, it was a game where we really felt we should have gone there and gotten some points, but we didn't play well. If we can get our heads right and play our best, the ball is in our court and if we take care of what we need to do, we can still win the Supporters' Shield."
"We've definitely stumbled in our past three to four league games," said Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis. "Once we get to the playoffs this team should be hitting its stride [again]."
The schedule has been particularly brutal to Houston of late having had to play fifteen games in two months in all competitions along with several players making the All-Star game or earning national team call-ups. While Stuart Holden, Brian Ching and Ricardo Clark still have work to do with the U.S. national team, their teammates and coach are clearly enjoying this small break in the schedule.
"The guys enjoyed the three days they had off after Colorado," said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear. "We played a lot of games and they catch up with you so the rest is well deserved."
The rest of the year returns to a much more normal pace for the Dynamo with only ten games over the remaining two months.
"I get three weeks myself with my suspension," said Davis. "It's good for the team though, obviously we have played a lot of games. It's been a tough road with traveling. The rest of the year, it's much easier." Four of the remaining games are in the CONCACAF Champions League games, one is an exhibition and six are at home. The schedule definitely turns from enemy to ally down the stretch run for the Dynamo.
The more favorable schedule and the return to normal heat and humidity should also provide the Dynamo the opportunity to do something they haven't had a lot of time to do over the last two months, put in full training sessions.
"We haven't been able to train like this with the heat and all the games," said Davis. "We got to come out and work really hard [these last two days]. We have a couple more days to rejuvenate and I think we are going to come out stronger [next week]."
The training sessions will also provide an opportunity for Houston to begin to fully incorporate the team's two newest acquisitions, defender Ryan Cochrane and forward Luis Angel Landin.
"It's nice," said Hainault. "When you have games everyday, you are traveling and you can't get on the training field like we have the last couple of days and sort of build with them a little bit."
Building with both Landin and Cochrane will be important if the Dynamo hope to lock down a spot in the playoffs and try to maintain their hold on the top spot in the Western Conference.
"First goal is to make the playoffs, second goal is to try to finish as high as we can," said Kinnear. "We control our own destiny because we play a lot of these teams face to face and that is the way you want it."
Dwain Capodice is a contributor to MLSnet.com.