Although the Columbus Crew just played the Houston Dynamo three short weekends ago, it might be in for a totally different challenge on Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium.
For one, there is a good chance that Houston's lineup will look far different from the one that faced the Black & Gold, both in terms of who's in and who's out. DaMarcus Beasley, who missed the clash at Crew Stadium, started and played the full 90 minutes in the club's last match on September 6 vs. Montreal. On the flip side, forward Will Bruin, goalkeeper Tally Hall and defender Jermaine Taylor have all suffered injuries since the Crew last saw Houston. Hall, with a ruptured ACL, is assuredly out for this clash, while Bruin and Taylor's availabilities are yet to be fully determined.
Regardless, the Black & Gold know that, like themselves, Houston has a set style and it won't change no matter who is on the pitch.
"They have an identity. They like to bang, they're a physical team, they like lumping the ball," said defender Eric Gehrig. "They make it difficult for you to put your stamp on the game, especially at home. We just have to believe in what we've done over the last couple of weeks. We took care of them at home. Gregg [Berhalter] will tell you, we're not going to change our game. We're going to do what we do."
Berhalter echoed Gehrig's sentiments.
"[Dynamo Head Coach] Dom [Kinnear] kind of sticks to his plan, which is great. That's why he's successful," said the Crew boss. "The plan may not change much. Personnel may look different."
One other notable difference from the last time the two sides met is the venue. Houston's temperature and humidity can often create a difficult environment to play in, one that Gehrig admitted is among the most difficult in the League, but the Crew may have caught a break on that front. Of course, it's slightly past the peak of summer, and current weather predictions indicate that a rain shower is set to roll through Houston tomorrow evening. The shower might reduce the temperature from 91 degrees today to the low 80s tomorrow, possibly even lower by match time of 8:30 p.m. ET. Still, humidity is projected to be in the mid-70% range, so it could be a sticky atmosphere in which to play.
"It's going to be a battle. Playing there is always tough," said Justin Meram. "Everyone knows that; you probably want to schedule them in the winter as much as possible. Hopefully this is the end of the summer, so it won't be as hot. They have an advantage playing in that weather daily. We just have to come out and play our game. Last time we were there, we had our chances."
The last time the Crew was there was May 7, a match that Houston won by a 1-0 final. All-time, the Black & Gold are just 1-3-5 at Houston overall and 0-2-1 at BBVA Compass Stadium, a trend that they will be looking to snap on Saturday.
"At the end of the day, there could be a lot of things that play a part in the game, and we have to find a way to overcome them," said Gehrig. "I think everyone's pretty fit at this point of the season and it's just about doing what you have to do to prepare for the game at hand. Once the whistle blows, you have to give it everything you have for 90 minutes. Hopefully, if we do what we do and put in a good outing, we'll get the result."