In a historical move that fans won't enjoy, the Houston Dynamo are out of the playoffs for the second year in a row. In the first year under Scottish manager Owen Coyle the team has finished out the season about where they finished under their old coach Dominic Kinnear: bottom of the conference. With the season finale now on hand, it's time for the management staff to assess players to see who will be back next year.
In an interview with Darrell Lovell, Coyle mentioned that Will Bruin, Ricardo Clark, Tyler Deric and Giles Barnes are all out of contract at the end of the year (note: Major League Soccer contracts run on the calendar year, not the season). On top of that, loan deals for Honduran International Luis Garrido and Argentine midfielder Leonel Miranda are expiring. Retired (?) US International DaMarcus Beasley is also on a team option, as are likely several other players. This will be covered in greater depth later but it's worth mentioning now as it relates to possible lineup choices in this game.
Speaking of which, in the interview mentioned above, Coyle said, “We’re playing to continue to develop the young players. It’ll give us an opportunity as well with one or two of the younger ones continuing to progress. It’s a great opportunity for the younger ones but equally the senior players as well. When we come out of that … we’ll evaluate and decide how we like to move things on from there including next season.”
Another plus for the team is the return of rookie midfielder/forward Rob Lovejoy. After a horrible injury in May, the youngster has managed to get a few minutes and looked ok. While certainly not fit enough for a start, he could be used as a speed option off the bench. With the USL season over, all the players on loan are back with the club and available as well.
All that in mind, a likely formation would be a typical 4-4-2 with a few changes, hopefully. The Bruin/Torres partnership hasn't worked so trying out Torres and Barnes would be an option. Another would be an attacking three, adding Oscar Garcia, Mauro Manotas or Lovejoy to the mix. What fans won't be hoping to see is the usual 4-4-2 that has proven to be extremely ineffective.
For the Whitecaps, they'll be looking to reverse their fortunes. They haven't won a league game since September 9 with a 2 - 0 home win over the Colorado Rapids. Since then they've lost three games and tied two. While they sit in 3rd place, it's only a tenuous hold at the moment. Not only does Carl Robinson's side need the win to restore confidence, they need to stay at least 4th so that they have a home game for the play-in round next week. With a win and some help, they could secure 2nd in the conference and skip that round entirely.
With so much on the line, expect the 'Caps to throw everything they have at the game. If they somehow manage to lose the game, they could drop as far as 6th, making a run to MLS Cup much more difficult. For the first time in league history, all Conference games will be played at the same time so they won't have the benefit of knowing what is needed to secure their spot. Robinson and company will have to give it their all and hope for the best.
The likely result is another Dynamo loss on the road. While that may hurt fans' sensibilities, it can be mitigated if the team on the field has an eye on 2016. Seeing young Memo Rodriguez don the orange after a spectacular season with the Charleston Battery would be fantastic. A start for either Torres or Manotas would be nice, as would a goal from either young striker. Prediction? 2 - 1 to the home side, skipping the first round of the playoffs.