The San Jose Earthquakes have played 10 away games this season, and they have yet to collect a win. Their 0-5-5 record away from the Bay Area is big part of why they sit in eighth place in the Western Conference. The top six teams in the table -- all in the MLS Cup playoffs if the season ended today -- have at least two road victories to their credit.
And so the Quakes travel to Texas to face the Houston Dynamo, the last place team in the West, Sunday evening, looking to break through with a wind and breathe life into their postseason hopes. The Dynamo's record is certainly poor, but Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear knows that his former charges are very difficult to beat at BBVA Compass Stadium.
"Overall, it is a challenging place to play," he said earlier in the week. "It would be nice to walk off the field with a win, no matter where you we are, but obviously on the road would be big for us."
Houston, like San Jose, is winless on the road in 2016, but they, again like the Quakes, are having a strong season at home. In nine regular season games at BBVA Compass Stadium, the Dynamo have lost only once and have an overall record of 4-1-4.
"All games are difficult, whether the other team is confident or down," said Kinnear, "so you expect they will come out with their best."
One player the Dynamo won't have available is forward Giles Barnes, who yesterday was traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Another dangerous forward that is away for Houston is Erick "Cubo" Torres, who is with the Mexico men's soccer team at the Rio Olympic Games. Physical forward Will Bruin is likely to get the call at the top of the Dynamo formation Sunday evening.
Due in part to the Dynamo's struggles this season, the head coach they started the season with, Owen Coyle, was relieved of his duties back in May, and assistant coach Wade Barrett was promoted to interim head coach. Barrett has the team playing more defensively sound, and in eight games in charge, Houston has allowed only six goals. On the flip side, they have only scored five goals, and are 1-2-5 in those eight games.
Barrett played 10 seasons in MLS, starting with the Earthquakes as a rookie in 1998, and called Kinnear coach for five years with both San Jose and Houston. He joined Kinnear's coaching staff in Houston as an assistant upon his retirement in 2010, and he has been there ever since. For Kinnear, going up against an opposing coach he knows so much about certainly will be special.
"Wade's been on the opposite bench for some time. so it will be a little bit strange," said Kinnear, "but it won't be crazy."
Kinnear went on to describe how facing his good friend Frank Yallop was the toughest coaching assignment, given that the two were friends well before they entered the MLS coaching ranks. However, Kinnear is very pleased to see Barrett get his chance to lead the Dynamo on an interim basis, and maybe longer depending on his success.
"I'm happy he is getting a chance and is sticking with the game," he said. "I don't take excessive pride in that, but I am happy to see an American coach get a chance in this league."
Kinnear is not looking to gift Barrett and the Dynamo points on Sunday, and he has an almost full complement of players at his disposal for Sunday evening's game. Leading the pack will be 2016 MLS All-Star forward Chris Wondolowski, who scored in the Quakes last game, a 1-1 draw at Real Salt Lake, to take his season tally to eight.
Wondo has 117 goals all-time in MLS, but the Houston Dynamo is the one team he has never scored against. If he can break through Sunday evening, he will join former Earthquakes and Dynamo forward Kei Kamara in having scored against 21 MLS opponents. With two goals, Wondolowski would reach double-digits in scoring for the seventh straight season -- an MLS record.
The two teams have faced off once already this season, a 3-1 decision in favor of the Quakes at Avaya Stadium back on May 11. San Jose has only won once since that game, and in two-and-a-half months have seen their place in the West slip below the red line in the table. A win against the Dynamo would still keep them in eighth place, but only two points away from cracking the top-six.
How to Watch
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Houston Dynamo
BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, TX
Kick-off: Sunday, July 31, 8:00 p.m. local time, 6:00 p.m. Pacific Time
Television: CSN California
Radio: 1590 KLIV (English) and 1370 KZSF (Spanish)
Online: MLS Live