MLS Playoff Race: Dynamo hopes ride on home dominance

Many of the 16 teams that play twice this week are in dire need of points in the playoff chase, yet the stakes are probably highest for Houston.

The Dynamo (10-10-9, 39 points) is tied with sixth-place San Jose in the standings, but the Quakes (11-13-6) have the advantage in the first tiebreaker, which is most wins. They also play twice at home this week, and thus the teams could be as far as six points apart when the week’s action is done, or fewer points apart, or still tied.
Western Conference bubble race:
5. Real Salt Lake  12-14-5   41 pts. 
Games remaining (3): @LA, @COL, SKC.
6. San Jose 11-13-6 39 pts. 
Games remaining (4): CHI, POR, @VAN, MIN.
7. Houston 10-10-9 39 pts. 
Games remaining (5): LA, MIN, @SKC, SKC, CHI.
8. FC Dallas 9-9-11 38 pts. 
Games remaining (5): COL, @OC, @COL, @SEA, LA.

Houston has, on paper, the easier run of games this week against the woeful Galaxy Wednesday and expansion upstart Minnesota United Saturday. San Jose hosts Chicago on the first night and then plays Portland (13-10-8, 47 points). In both cases, the home team will be facing a rested opponent in its second game, after which the teams will take a break for the FIFA international fixture window.

Both teams have home games remaining with Chicago and Minnesota United and could still catch Real Salt Lake, which has only three games to play. Both teams could also be caught by FC Dallas, however, and miss the postseason entirely.

The Dynamo also has a game in hand on the Quakes: a postponed match against Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park rescheduled to Oct. 11 because of Hurricane Harvey. Houston then hosts SKC four days later in its penultimate game of the season and closes out the campaign against the Fire.

Home dominance (9-1-5, W-L-T) has kept Houston in the playoff race this season and it will need to maintain that level of performance to claim a playoff spot. A 1-1 tie with New York City FC last weekend extended its winless skid to five games.

“We cannot make excuses but it definitely affected our rhythm,” said Houston coach Wilmer Cabrera of a two-week break between games necessitated by the storms that slammed the city this month. “We have to postpone the Sporting Kansas City game and stay in our homes four or five days without practicing, without moving. We spend 10 days without any kind of work … But we continue fighting, we continue pushing.”

Rather than his preferred 4-3-3 formation, Cabrera deployed Mauro Manotas up top supported by a line of Vicente Sanchez, Alex and Tomas Martinez. The Dynamo started slowly and conceded a goal in the sixth minute but rebounded to equalize 10 minutes later when Sanchez quickly took a free kick awarded a few yards outside the penalty area and fed a ball Manotas drilled into the net. The ball wasn’t quite still, as the laws of the game specify, when Sanchez played it to Manotas, but referee Allan Chapman did not order the free kick re-taken.

Mindful of the upcoming games, Cabrera subbed out both Alex and Sanchez. Alberth Elis came in and did well enough to put two of his three shots on frame. Erick Torres, the team’s leading scorer with 14 goals, did not get off the bench and neither did midfielder Ricardo Clark, so Cabrera has plenty options for the two crucial matches this week.

“We know that we have five more finals in front of us, and we’re just going to go step by step, game by game,” said Cabrera. “Today we have a very tough opponent, but we came to play even and we played even, and we could have won the game, of course. We should have won? Yes. Also for [NYCFC], they have chances. It was a good team, it was a good game. It was a good match of soccer and I’m pleased with the attitude, with the mentality, and with the effort of the players.”
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