First-place Dynamo seek first win ever in Vancouver
The Houston Dynamo head north of the border riding a hot streak that's propelled them to the top of MLS' Western Conference standings.
They will be hard-pressed to build on that momentum on Saturday when they face Vancouver Whitecaps FC at BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The Dynamo (10-7-7) currently sit atop the Western Conference table with 37 points in 24 matches after their 3-0 win over San Jose last Saturday. Alberth Elis and Vincente Sanchez each had a goal and an assist in the victory that extended Houston' unbeaten streak to six consecutive matches.
That is the longest unbeaten streak for the club since 2012, when it went undefeated in eight straight matches from June 30-Aug. 3.
For Houston coach Wilmer Cabrera, the win over San Jose was just another step toward the team's ultimate goal -- a return to the playoffs after three years away.
"We're not thinking about our position," Cabrera said. "We're just thinking that our goal is to be in the playoffs. Bring the team back to the playoffs where it deserves to be. And we're working game by game with that objective."
Much of the discussion this season about the Dynamo's surge back to a place among the league's elite teams has been centered on its explosive offense. Meanwhile, Houston's defense has become quietly dominant; its win over San Jose was its second straight clean sheet.
"When a team gets better defensively, it gives it more possibilities to experiment with the lineup up top and give some players rest and play others." Cabrera said. "That has been really important for us. Getting a clean sheet is gratifying for the defensive players. It's important for us to keep consolidating our defense."
Houston has never won in Vancouver, managing a draw in six trips into BC Place, and has just one win (and four draws) in 12 road matches this season. The Dynamo only won three times in their last 37 MLS road games (3-22-12), so no matter how well they are playing, a win on Saturday might be a surprise.
Houston will be forced to play Saturday's match without Elis, who has been suspended for yellow-card accumulation. He picked up his sixth yellow of the year in the win over San Jose.
The Whitecaps (9-9-4, 31 points in 22 matches) fell below the playoff line after their 1-0 loss at New England. Vancouver currently holds the fifth-best points-per-game average in the Western Conference, a key tiebreaker for postseason positioning.
After three straight games on the road, Whitecaps FC will now play six of their next seven matches at BC Place, starting Saturday against Houston. Then comes a Cascadia Cup showdown against rival Seattle just four days later.
Both the Dynamo and Sounders FC are tied for the top spot in the Western Conference, six points ahead of Vancouver. The Whitecaps, however, have two games in hand on each of them.
"The games in hand are irrelevant if you don't pick up points," Whitecaps FC coach Carl Robinson said. "We know there's three points at stake on Saturday. And we need to make sure we try and get those three points at home. We've just got to focus on Saturday. It's a tough game. They are a good team. We're a good team. We'll be ready for it and we'll give it our best."
The Whitecaps announced Thursday that midfielder Matias Laba suffered a torn ACL on Saturday versus New England and will miss the rest of the season. Laba was seen on crutches at the training center.
"We are just gutted -- gutted for the boy," Robinson said. "We're disappointed. He's been brilliant for the club since I brought him here. I told him this morning that we, me and the club, we will look after him and help him rehab. He's a massive part of this football club."
The Whitecaps have won five of their last eight MLS home games (5-2-1) and have averaged two goals per game along the way.
Updated August 18, 2017