In a way, it's fitting that Houston and Columbus are set to square-off this weekend, as these are two teams in similar places entering the stretch run of the MLS campaign. Both clubs might not be on gigantic winning streaks at the moment, and neither has a playoff place secure (the Dynamo, in fact, sit in eighth place entering the weekend), but there is a palpable air of excitement about both sides that is set to spill over onto the Crew Stadium pitch on Saturday.
From the Crew perspective, the aftermath of Saturday's 4-1 victory against the LA Galaxy is still creating a buzz about town, one that the team has continued to feel throughout the week of training. The task now for the Black & Gold is to carry over that momentum while still focusing on improvement, something that Eric Gehrig said is always on his club's mind.
"We have to stay away from straight balls," said the defender. "[We need to] play side-to-side, getting the ball in the pockets and turning … When we move it side-to-side, it opens things up for guys in the middle. Even when the ball gets played out to me – I take a touch and play it right back, the middle gets expanded. There's more space.
"Those are things that we can always do better. When we do those things, it usually ends well for us."
Houston, meanwhile, has begun a late-season surge toward the MLS Cup Playoffs on the backs of new signings DaMarcus Beasley and Luis Garrido, both alumni of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Since Beasley and Garrido entered the fold, the Dynamo has won two of three matches, including a 2-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union in its last clash.
The club also has been a different beast with Brad Davis in the team, and it appears to be at full-strength coming to Crew Stadium on Saturday. Still, the Crew is confident in its abilities and knows that, by carrying over the performance against LA to this weekend, its potential is limitless.
"Houston always makes a late-season push like they're doing right now," said Wil Trapp. "They just signed Beasley and Garrido, so they're a little more dangerous now. In saying that, when we play like we did Saturday night, we're very, very difficult to beat. You think about it, but you try not to read too much into it, to them making a push."
"With Brad Davis' service on set pieces, we can't turn off," added Aaron Schoenfeld. "We have to go out there and match their intensity. I feel like if we play our game, we should win the game."
The new signings have given Houston a bit of a different look from the team that defeated Columbus in May.
"Beasley's played in four World Cups. He's a guy that knows what's going on," said the leftback's former USMNT teammate and Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. "Playing in big games is nothing for him. Garrido is a guy who also has international experience. These guys bring routine to the table. When you look at their midfield, specifically, it's a talented group."
With two teams that appear to be playing to the peak of their potential, Saturday's match should be an exciting jockey for three big points in the ever-tightening Eastern Conference race.
"[The key for us is] managing the tempo of the game and not getting sucked into a back-and-forth battle where they're going to try to transition and counter-attack us," said Trapp.
"We have to be patient, but also attack, and be smart in our transition defense as well."