In recent years, a game pitting the Revolution and the Houston Dynamo could be considered as close to “must see’’ as Major League Soccer could produce. Not this season.
The teams that played each other in two consecutive MLS Cup title games several years ago, both won by the Dynamo, have fallen on hard times and will miss the playoffs this season. The Revolution, however, last week indicated they plan to ameliorate an awful 7-15-5 season that included just one single road victory -- all the way back April 3rd against D.C. United, a side that also missed the playoffs.
The teams will lock horns Sunday night in Houston (8:30 ET), as both teams try to put a strong ending to tumultuous campaigns.
The Dynamo’s struggles this season have been just as unceasing. With a 7-14-6 record and 27 points on the season, the saving grace perhaps for Houston has been the announcement that they will break ground on a new soccer-specific stadium in January. The Revolution, playing in the vast and out-of-proportioned Gillette Stadium, could only be so lucky.
Last week, however, the Revs announced plans to delve into the Designated Player’s market, with an aim toward recruiting top-level players who could help to provide an immediate improvement. Players with DP status in the league include David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez, who bring star power and a certain quality to a team.
The players can be paid an unlimited salary, but $400,000 of the pay is counted against the team’s salary cap. The Revolution's starting point for their salary cap will be larger this season because they have likely come to the end with their all-time leading scorer Taylor Twellman, who appears resigned to the fact he will have to retire because of symptoms of chronic concussion. Twellman, who scored 101 goals in 174 games for the Revs, reportedly earned $400,000 in salary. He would come off the team’s books at the end of this season.
The Revolution said that while they were willing to loosen the purse strings to improve the quality of the team, they were not planning to spend on the high end of DP salaries, in the range of Beckham, Henry and Marquez, all reported at $5 million minimum per season. They did, however, say they were willing to sign more than one DP.
For the time being, the Revolution must finish this season out with just three games to play. The Revs historically have done well at Houston’s Robertson Stadium, going 3-0-1 there since 2006, when the Dynamo relocated there from San Jose.
“It’s always a rivalry when we play Houston,’’ Revs forward Kheli Dube told RevolutionSoccer.net. “Most of the time [when] we go there, we give our all and try to get a win. The last couple of years I’ve been here, we’ve been winning games over there. Hopefully, on Sunday we will win again.’’
Coach Steve Nicol said his team played well last week despite a 2-1 loss to defending champion Real Salt Lake.
“Making clearer chances and them putting them away is really what we need to do,’’ Nicol told RevolutionSoccer.net. “When you have so much of the ball, you have to take advantage of it. If you don’t, then you see what happens. You give a sloppy goal away, then you are up against it.’’
The Revolution on Sunday will be without Gambian duo Sainey Nyassi and Kenny Mansally, who have been called in by their nation to face Burkina Faso in what will be a rigorous Africa Cup of Nations challenge for the small country, seemingly surrounded on all sides save for a small port section by Senegal.
Right back Kevin Alston also will not play because of an ongoing issue with his hamstring. The athletic defender, who with proper development could become a candidate for the U.S. national team, could likely be shut down for the remainder of the season to give his hamstring proper time to heal.
The Revolution will get back the service of Cory Gibbs, who was out last week with a hip infection. The veteran Gibbs, in his first season with the Revolution, will likely return to the center of defense against Houston after alternating between the center and left side during the past couple of months.
“It’s difficult,’’ Gibbs said in reference to the revolving door on defense caused by injury. “We’ve been dealing with it all season. It’s something you don’t wish upon any team, and for it to be the back line, it’s most difficult. You want to have a steady back line throughout the whole season to build the core of the team.’’