Houston and Chivas USA, both in the midst of three-game winning streaks, clash in ESPN2's Thursday Night MLS game. Houston coach Dominic Kinnear figured he'd lose midfielders Dwayne DeRosario (Canada) and Ricardo Clark (USA) and forward Brian Ching (USA) during the Gold Cup, but he wasn't expecting the emergency call-up of keeper Pat Onstad to the Canadian team.
"It was a big surprise to both of us," says Onstad, 38, who has been going back and forth between club and country after injuries sidelined two of Canada's goalies. "But he [Kinnear] said to me, 'It's an honor.' Luckily, Canada has done well, reaching the semifinals, and Houston has been able to keep winning even while missing some pretty important guys."
The Dynamo has reeled off three straight wins by 2-1 scores and can leapfrog Chivas USA into second place if it can nab its fourth in a row. Kinnear traded Alejandro Moreno to Columbus to get Joseph Ngwenya, who has responded with three goals in six games, and moved Kelly Gray into midfield alongside Richard Mulrooney to compensate for the absences of DeRosario and Clark. Onstad played last weekend against Columbus but since there's a bit of a conflict today - USA vs. Canada in the Gold Cup semifinals -- Zach Wells will be in the nets for Houston.
Chivas USA is also on a three-game winning streak, all by shutouts, which is one reason Brad Guzan is expected to leave next week with the USA team for the Copa America. Last weekend he stoned Herculez Gomez early in the match and preserved the win with a pair of late saves for his fifth shutout of the season. With eight goals conceded, Chivas USA not only leads the league, it is the only team in single digits. Strikers Maykel Galindo and Ante Razov have scored a combined 10 goals, and midfielder Paulo Nagamura got forward to score the only goal of a 1-0 win at Chicago June 9. Sacha Kljestan's move to the right side of midfield could match him up against Houston lefty Brad Davis, who has been a bit quiet this season with only three assists in 11 games.
The only international absence for Chivas USA is left back Jonathan Bornstein. His spot has been taken by former Fire defender Orlando Perez, who has committed just two fouls in three games but could be tested often by right midfielder Brian Mullan.
Chivas USA has been finding ways to win. It broke a 0-0 deadlock early in the second half against Colorado when Francisco Mendoza shanked a shot attempt that caromed off midfielder Terry Cooke into the Rapids net, and clinched the victory with a Maykel Galindo goal, his third in the last four games, set up by a great ball out of midfield by Jesse Marsch. Nagamura's goal that doused the Fire was his first in 64 MLS games.
"We're starting to click," says Razov. "It was just a matter of time before we started pulling things together."