The Houston Dynamo are hoping to move above the playoff line in the Western Conference while Columbus Crew SC looks to continue climbing from its third-place standing in the Eastern Conference when the Black & Gold kick off from BBVA Stadium on Saturday night.
The Dynamo (4-7-8, 20 pts.) rallied from a two-goal deficit to earn a 2-2 draw against Minnesota United at Allianz Field Sunday night, while the Crew (10-4-4, 34 pts.) snapped a four-match winless streak with a 3-1 victory over NYCFC at MAPFRE Stadium Sunday.
The Dynamo are unbeaten in the last seven meetings between the teams in Houston, with the Crew's last victory coming in 2011.
The Dynamo fell into a two-goal hole inside the opening 30 minutes on an Ethan Finlay brace, but struck twice after halftime with Niko Hansen equalizing seven minutes from the final whistle after Memo Rodriguez pulled the visitors back a goal just before the hour mark. While Loons boss Adrian Heath felt fortunate to walk away with a point, Tab Ramos felt mistakes cost his team points on the night.
"We have those moments when we lose focus and those cause us to lose points," Ramos said. "It's unfortunate because I thought we were certainly the better team today and we once again should have gotten the three points."
Columbus Crew SC
Artur and Pedro Santos staked Columbus a two-goal lead and Gyasi Zardes scored his 11th goal of the season in second-half stoppage time as Crew SC defeated NYCFC 3-1 at MAPFRE Stadium to clinch a berth in the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Sunday night. It ended a run where Columbus lost three of their last four in a winless streak.
"The guys looked at themselves and admitted that they can be better, and that’s a true culture," Caleb Porter said after the match. "We’ve been working hard to create that, and I think that was tested in the last three days. I think we showed today that we have a great culture here and we have a great group of guys."
On paper, the Dynamo don't appear to be trending in the right direction, having won once in the last 10 matches while giving up at least two goals in six of them.
Regardless, the statistics show a team that likes to play an open game, and Porter said he expects to see an aggressive and even desperate Houston side on Saturday, considering the Dynamo remain just one point below the playoff line.
"I say it a couple of times a year when we play a team and you go, 'I think they are a better team than what the narrative is,'" Porter said.
"They are going to be desperate and aggressive in this game because if they want to have a chance at the playoffs, it's a critical game, it's at home, and they have good players. I think sometimes they get opened up because they try and play, and they prefer an open game. So we have to be smart in how we manage the game for sure."
Offensively, expect Houston to create its fair share of chances from open play, as the Dynamo ranks fifth in MLS in shots on target (100), but have created the second-fewest scoring chances from set play (16).
As Houston's most recent match against Minnesota suggests, the Dynamo can be down but never counted out. The club's seven points-gained from a losing position has them tied for fourth in MLS.
Every Point Matters
Captain Jonathan Mensah, who was just announced to a multi-year contract extension on Thursday, made it clear that Sunday's clinching of an MLS Cup Playoffs spot was celebrated in the moment and in that moment alone.
For the next two weeks, it's about securing as much post-season home-field advantage opportunities as possible, and that starts with three points down in Houston.
"Celebrating-wise, there's nothing to celebrate right now because obviously the target is bigger than the win on Sunday. We were happy for the win but we weren't celebrating. There are more things to accomplish," Mensah said on Thursday.
"Making the playoffs is not even half-way; it's a little piece of the cake. So we are happy but at the same time, locked in. ... We want to get the higher seed because in the playoffs, if you can get a higher seed you keep playing at home. ... To win MLS Cup, home advantage counts."
The Crew kicks off at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday on SportsTime Ohio.