Chivas USA is feeling pretty good about itself after bouncing back from a poor midweek showing last week against Vancouver with a superb effort to beat Portland last weekend -- and now that it has a full complement of players available to head coach Robin Fraser for the first time all season.
Will those warm, fuzzy feelings wilt in the Houston heat?
It's a concern of sorts -- South Texas has been baking the past week or so in triple-digit temperatures and that legendary humidity -- even if that's unspoken; nobody's about to admit it, and nobody wants to use it as an excuse if the Goats fail to win Saturday at Robertson Stadium, where they've never won.
The Dynamo come in hungry after failing to win in their last seven, and they're sure to be better attuned to the conditions.
Not that Fraser will admit that.
"It's a soccer field, and there's 11 of them and 11 of us, and whatever the conditions are, you have to be prepared to play ...," Fraser said. "Once you get out there, it's hot and it's humid and it's certainly oppressive, but there's still a game to be won. There's still a job to be done. There's attacking runs to be made, defensive runs to be made, tackles to be made, goals to be scored. At the end of the day, you still have to play."
Central defender Heath Pearce became acquainted with the Texas heat during two seasons with FC Dallas.
"In Dallas, you get used to it, but it's all a mentality thing," said Pearce, who grew up in the summer heat of Modesto, in the Central Valley, but played college soccer at Portland and toiled in Denmark and on Germany's Baltic coast before coming to MLS. "If you put yourself in the right mindset, you really don't notice it. If you start to get fatigued, you learn to play through it -- you learn to play differently, to be mentally stronger as you become more physically tired.
"So I don't think it should play much of a factor. I think it's more of a crutch that people like to lean on when they don't get results there, and so we're going to go there with the same mindset as if we're playing at home or anywhere else."
It will be good practice for the next few months, when blistering heat and humidity will greet Chivas pretty much everywhere except to the north, in San Jose (where it can be quite warm) and the Pacific Northwest.
The Goats (4-4-5, just four points out of third place in the Western Conference) are looking to build on their better-than-it-sounds 1-0 victory over the Timbers, and the returns of forward Alejandro Moreno and defender Andy Boyens from international duty and exits from the injury list by five of six players camped there most or all of the past three months have them moving forward with a real sense of optimism.
"I think we're back on track again," Pearce said. "I think we had a little bit of a speed bump -- kind of a blessing in disguise -- against Vancouver: We came out flat, we didn't play well together as a team, we didn't do all the things that made us good, and I think coming out against Portland, we showed we haven't fallen into a slump or anything like that."
Said Fraser: "I think you have times where you kind of have to check yourselves, because as you go, you get caught up in results or fatigue or the number of games, and you kind of forget at times what makes you good. And I think [the Portland] game was a good game for us [in that] we really looked a lot at ourselves in the three days between the [Vancouver and Portland] games and said: What makes us good? And we went out and we put out a pretty good performance."
WON'T LOOK AHEAD: The Dynamo (3-5-6), who are fourth in the East, have been struggling, but Fraser knows they're dangerous, even with several key players away at the CONCACAF Gold Cup or battling injuries.
"I think they're a pretty dangerous team anyway. The fact they haven't won in seven games, I think hunger makes everyone a little better, perhaps," he said. "They're a team I would completely respect regardless of what their record was. The fact they may be feeling like they need to claw for points, that makes them certainly extremely challenging."
WORTH NOTING: Chivas has not scored in Houston in five years. The Goats' all-time mark against the Dynamo: 2-9-5. In Houston: 0-7-2. ... Moreno is back from duty with Venezuela's national team, but he'll be off for Copa America on Sunday and won't return until mid-July at the earliest. That's at least five games he'll miss (on top of last week's tie with Vancouver and win over Portland) and as many as seven, depending on how the Vinotinto fare. Their Group B clash with Ecuador on July 9 could determine whether or not they're quarterfinalists. ... Boyens is back from two New Zealand games, but he might find it difficult to dislodge Michael Umaña from the right-side center-back slot. Umaña, who had seen just three minutes of action this season before Boyens left, was terrific against the Whitecaps and Timbers. ... Rookie defender Zarek Valentin will be suspended if he receives a yellow card in Houston. He hast a team-high four cautions. ... Eleven of the Dynamo's 17 goals have come in the final 15 minutes of either half.
MISSING: Look who's getting healthy! Only Jimmy Conrad (returning from concussion) remains on the league injury list, as “doubtful.”
The Scotland-born, Bay Area-raised Dominic Kinnear is on MLS's first line of coaches. He assisted Frank Yallop when San Jose won MLS Cup titles in 2001 and 2003, guided the Earthquakes to the Supporters' Shield in 2005, then won MLS Cup titles as head coach in the first two seasons after the team moved to Houston. A fine attacking midfielder, Kinnear made 54 appearances for the U.S. national team (should have been on the 1994 World Cup roster) and played in Mexico and for three MLS clubs.
Three key players
Brad Davis is MLS's most dangerous left winger, a set-piece specialist who creates from the flank -- and leads MLS with eight assists.
Geoff Cameron first emerged as a backline leader for the Dynamo, then turned out to be far more dynamic in midfield. The 2009 MLS Best XI selection is back on track after an injury-marred campaign last year -- and is back on the backline with Andre Hainault away at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Indiana product Will Bruin is among the early frontrunners for best first-year player, with four goals, three of them in a late-April rout of D.C. United.
The Dynamo (3-5-6) have been a lot better than their record suggests. They should have been unbeaten through their first seven games, but they're winless in their last seven (0-4-3), lacking what Cameron this week called “killer instinct” and needing what Brian Ching called “meanness and toughness.” That might help in conceding fewer goals -- Houston has given up two in five games on the skid. So might simpler competition: Four successive games during the seven were against arguably the league's top four sides: Real Salt Lake (0-0 tie), home vs. New York (2-2 tie), at the Galaxy (1-0 loss) and home against FC Dallas (2-2 tie).
Ching played in eight MLS games and scored a goal for the Galaxy in 2001. … Goalkeeper coach Tim Hanley was on the Galaxy's staff during the 2007 season. … Kinnear was based in Mission Viejo during the buildup to the 1994 World Cup.
Canadian back Hainault and Jamaican defender Jermaine Taylor and midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson are on duty at the Gold Cup. ... Forward Calen Carr (concussion) is out. Ching (plantar fasciitis) is officially “questionable,” but there's talk of him being on the 18-man game roster, at the very least, this week. We'll see.
At Robertson Stadium (University of Houston), 5:30 p.m.
TV: Prime Ticket and KWHY/Channel 22
Radio: W Radio (XEWW/690, Spanish)
Referee: Geoff Gamble