"I'm not worried about their fitness, I'm worried about how many games we've played," said Coach Dominic Kinnear, who kept his team in Southern California following Sunday's victory to train before traveling to Seattle Tuesday. "We play on Thursday and the league didn't take into account that we played on Wednesday [a 3-2 victory in El Salvador against Isidro Metapan] in Concacaf and I think that's unfair."
The Thursday slot was mandated by ESPN, which also stipulated a West Coast venue if possible to push the match into a later time slot on the East Coast. Seattle has played a significant non-league schedule, having won the U.S. Open Cup and also played friendlies with Real Madrid and Barcelona during the summer, but only the Open Cup final - against D.C. United at RFK Stadium in early September - required real travel.
Houston, by contrast, since February has visited Mexico (twice), Panama, and El Salvador this season in the Concacaf Champions' League, though its recent schedule isn't that extreme; it played four league matches and one Conacaf game in October. Still, it has played 41 competitive matches since tying Atlante, 1-1, in the 2008-09 CCL quarterfinals Feb. 24, which perhaps explains its rather moderate league record of 4-3-4 since the All-Star break.
The Dynamo has lost both of its visits to Qwest Field this season by 2-1 scores. It lost the league encounter July 11 and a return trip in the Open Cup 10 days later. Kinnear has revamped his front line since then, adding speed with Dominic Oduro and Abe Thompon as well as high-priced talent in Mexican Luis Angel Landin, signed as the club's first Designated Player. Kinnear's also worked veteran defender Eddie Robinson back into the lineup; Robinson came off the disabled list in early September following knee surgery that had sidelined him since late May.
"Tough team, good team," said Kinnear of Seattle, which the Dynamo tied, 1-1, at Robertson Stadium Aug. 23. "Great at home, great crowd. Weapons galore; [Freddie] Ljungberg's quietly had a very good season for them, very influential, [Fredy] Montero has put up some good numbers, good pace on the outside, good defense. It's a tough team for us."
While Kinnear tinkers with the defense and gives his new forwards playing time as he sorts out the best combinations and partners for Brian Ching, midfielder Brad Davis has taken over as playmaker, with four assists and a goal in the last three games. Yet recovery may dictate how goes the first game; then the teams will have plenty of time to rest for the second leg in Houston Nov. 8.
"In the last 20 minutes, you could see that we didn't have much left," said goalie Pat Onstad of the Chivas USA game, in which Houston jumped out to a 3-0 lead and had to hang tough to grind out the win that secured homefield advantage by being a single point head of the Sounders. "We've played three games in eight days. We have another game in four more days. It's been tough but we have to regroup and we'll be ready for Seattle on Thursday."