Even with temperatues expected above 90 degrees in Houston this weekend, the Columbus Crew are well aware that it’s not just the usually scorching conditions that make Robertson Stadium a tough place for visiting teams.
“It’s always difficult to play with the heat and the intensity they play with,” said Crew defender Julius James, who hails from the Carribean island of Trinidad.
James, who played eight games (five starts) for Houston in 2009, acknowledges that Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear deserves credit for establishing that home-field advantage.
“He always coached intensity in practice,” James said. “That’s it. It’s not about, ‘It’s hot and let’s run them into the ground.’ That’s how they play all the time. They grind it out. They work hard.”
The Crew (4-4-6) have one loss and four ties and have been outscored 5-3 in Houston since the team transferred there from San Jose. With the Dynamo opening a new stadium in May 2012, Columbus hope to finish their Robertson Stadium finale on a high note despite the high heat (Saturday, 8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“It’s a very hard place to play,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said. “It’s usually very hot there, but they also have a very good team every year we’ve played there. There’s times where it feels like it’s 115 degrees. Other times there’s sand on the field. There’s always something. We have to block all that out and play or game.”
Gaven's sentiments echo the mantra preached by the Crew all week after following a strong performance in a win over Real Salt Lake on June 8 with last Sunday's dismal effort during a 1-0 loss to the Chicago Fire — a loss in which they did not record a shot on target.
“We want to be smart, we want to move the ball, move off the ball and create chances," said Crew coach Robert Warzycha. "More than anything we have to play our game, which we didn’t do against Chicago."
Warzycha remains hopeful that forwards Tommy Heinemann and Emilio Rentería will be ready for Saturday's match at Houston, as his club has seen injuries decimate its attacking efforts while the beleaguered defense practiced at various times with outside backs Sebastián Miranda and Josh Gardner on the wings.
“We’re trying to prepare the guys for any changes we would make so that it wouldn’t be a surprise,” Warzycha said.
Gaven believes any last-minute modifications by Warzycha should not create problems for a Crew side focusing on fundamentals.
“It doesn’t really matter who’s on the field, every guy out there should know what he’s doing,” he said. “We’ve got go out there and do it.”
As the Crew are 1-3-3 in their past seven contests and possessed a lead for a total of eight minutes over that stretch, James reiterated Gaven's call for focus in order to hang in with the Houston heat and rebuild the club's resiliency.
“We need to bounce back,” James said. “Whatever we’re doing, we need to be on the same page because we can’t afford to be running carelessly. We have our game plan, but with changes, we need to be together.”