Strong's Notes: Familiar Faces

Houston roster in flux after stretch of games; knowledge of each other's squads is deep

After returning home with a scoreless draw against the Columbus Crew last Saturday, the Timbers now head to the heat of Texas to take on the Houston Dynamo on Tuesday night (5:30pm PT, ROOT SPORTS, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940 AM). The Timbers will have had a bonus few days to rest, recover, and plot their next move after an improved performance—if not the result they wanted—against the Crew. The Dynamo, meanwhile, will come into the game buzzing, if not a little fatigued, after opening their new stadium with a 1-0 win over DC United just three days prior.

Busy Stretch for the Home Team
As much as the Timbers always put most of their focus on themselves for a given game, they also have a very good idea about what to expect from their opponent. In addition to the usual video scouting, they usually can make an educated guess about what lineup they’ll face in the coming match; not so Tuesday. The Dynamo will be playing their third game in seven days—part of a stretch of four in 11 days—and will quite possibly be making a few changes to keep bodies fresh.

The Timbers, though, say that doesn’t really matter to them. They know whoever they face from the Dynamo will play physical, will work hard for 90 minutes, and will look to wear them down in the heat and humidity by moving the ball and making them chase. Houston also have a very good reputation on set pieces, with three big defenders, and target forwards like Brian Ching (6’1”), Will Bruin (6’2”), Cam Weaver, and Macoumba Kandji (both 6’4”).

Happy To Be Back At Home
On Saturday, Houston became the 13th MLS team to be able to enjoy a grand opening of a new or refurbished stadium, and their victory makes those home teams 7-2-4 on their special day. The game came at a good time, too: after starting seven straight road games to begin the season with a pair of wins, the Dynamo ran out of steam, slumping to a 0-3-2 record which ended last Wednesday in a 1-0 loss at New York.

A defense which had earned shutouts in those opening wins seems to have gotten back on track after conceding eight goals in a four-game stretch; however, an offense that had scored six goals in three games at one point has scored just once in the past two matches, missing a bagful of chances in those games. Leading the line is Ching, one of the best goalscorers in MLS history, though it was Brad Davis—he of perhaps the best left foot in MLS, with the second-most assists of any active players—whose long-range effort gave the Dynamo their first goal in the new digs.

Still right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference despite the long season-opening road trip, Houston is now getting going on a run of 11 of their next 16 games at home. For the best home team in MLS since 2006, that spells a real chance to contend at the top of the league come the fall.

Many, Many Familiar Faces
As you’ll probably remember from last year, the Portland-Houston matchup produces the most interpersonal storylines of any the Timbers have in MLS. Coach John Spencer was an assistant with the Dynamo four-and-a-half years; Lovel Palmer and Mike Chabala came to Portland in a trade, from Houston, for Adam Moffat last July; Dynamo defender Jermaine Taylor played with Palmer in Jamaica earlier in their careers; midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson has played for the Jamaican national team alongside Palmer; Davis was a college teammate of Jack Jewsbury at St. Louis University; Bruin played at Indiana with Eric Alexander, and was second to Darlington Nagbe in voting for the 2010 Hermann Trophy; reserve defender Kofi Sarkodie was a teammate at Akron with Nagbe; Weaver, Kandji, and even Ching all played against the USL Timbers.

But, other than that, the Timbers’ quest to turn themselves in the right direction, the Dynamo playing their first night game in their spectacular new stadium, the renewal of what were two very physical games last year, and the Timbers’ hope for revenge from two losses, one of which all but killed off Portland’s playoff hopes late last season, there shouldn’t be that much of interest going on Tuesday night in Houston.