Depleted Houston faces Rapids in MLS Thursday clash

HOUSTON (3-5-1) vs. COLORADO (4-3-3)
Thursday, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

His goalkeeper and attacking catalyst are in Miami with the Canadian national team, his rugged forward and incisive midfielder are in Southern California on U.S. duty, and his best backup striker is sidelined with a sprained ankle. So, it's business as usual for Dominic Kinnear during Gold Cup time, although keeper Pat Onstad, who is suspended from MLS play after incurring a red card last weekend in a 2-1 win against FC Dallas, will return after playing for Canada Wednesday against Costa Rica. Zach Wells gets the start tonight.

Richard Mulrooney will keep the spot he occupied in central midfield when Dwayne DeRosario missed last week's game, but it was DeRo who took the Rapids apart May 5 when Houston thumped them, 3-1, at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Brad Davis could slide into the middle if Kinnear decides to give rookie Corey Ashe, who's been impressive in his three appearances as a sub, his first MLS start in place of Ricardo Clark. Kinnear has experimented with defender Kelly Gray at holding midfielder as well.

Paul Dalglish would be the replacement with Brian Ching on Gold Cup duty, but his sprained ankle still rules him unavailable. Kinnear could also try Ashe up top, or he could turn to Brian Mullan, who played forward with the Galaxy when he first came to MLS and has occasionally moved up top.

Only one regular - left back Greg Vanney, who also has a sprained ankle - is doubtful for Colorado. Panamanian forward Roberto Brown reportedly injured his ankle training with the team Tuesday and as of Wednesday night was supposed to be returning to the Rapids to be further evaluated.

Because Pablo Mastroeni is suspended from international play because of his red card against Italy last year in the World Cup, he is available for Colorado. He and Beckermann in the center of the field may be able to exploit the absence of DeRosario and Clark. The Dynamo needs a monster game from Mulrooney.

Last week, Colorado fell behind Toronto early, conceding two goals in the first 29 minutes, and only some stellar work by keeper Bouna Coundoul kept the score close after Herculez Gomez scored in the 32th minute to cut the deficit in half. Coundoul leads the league with 46 saves and could be called into action frequently again even though Houston is shorthanded.

By beating Colorado, Houston can close to within two points of the second-place Rapids as well as continue the dominance it has shown since moving to Texas from San Jose after the 2005 season. Ching scored four goals as Houston belted Colorado, 5-2, last year in its first game at Robertson Stadium.

Houston has won three of the five regular-season meetings and also knocked Colorado out of the playoffs last year in the Western Conference final, 3-1, with Dalglish scoring twice and Mullan once. Counting the playoff game, it has outscored Colorado, 15-8.

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