Struggling to recapture the momentum from one of the longest win streaks in franchise history, the Houston Dynamo have a chance to get back on track if they can take advantage of a key absence for the Chicago Fire.
Without leading scorer Marco Pappa, the Fire will seek to continue their recent success at home and try to add to the Dynamo's winless skid Sunday night.
Houston (11-6-9) and Chicago (12-8-5) are among a group of seven teams locked in a tight battle for the Eastern Conference's five playoff spots. The Dynamo haven't helped themselves lately by going 0-1-2 since a five-game win streak.
"We've got to start getting wins because we can't coast to the playoffs. We're not going to make it with that mentality," defender Andre Hainault told the team's official website.
Houston couldn't build on Will Bruin's first-half goal in its most recent league game last Saturday, settling for a 1-all draw with visiting Toronto FC.
Bruin, who has a team-high 11 goals, hadn't scored in his previous six games.
"It's like getting the first one of the year," Bruin said. "It's kinda like getting the weight off your shoulders and to play more freely."
Bruin was only used as a late substitute Thursday as Houston played Olimpia to a 1-all draw in Honduras as part of CONCACAF Champions League play.
While they own a 21-game unbeaten streak at home, the Dynamo are 1-6-4 over their last 11 on the road in league matches and will play three of their next four away from home.
The Dynamo are 0-1-2 over their last three visits to Chicago. The teams' last four matches have ended in ties, including 1-all at Toyota Park on April 15 and a scoreless draw July 3 in Houston.
The Fire had Pappa for both of those games, but he won't be around for this one. The midfielder, who has six goals and five assists, was transferred to Dutch club SC Heerenveen on Thursday.
Pappa was originally expected to leave after the end of the season. The move is designed to give the club a chance to stay under the salary cap next year.
"We're going to miss him dearly," captain Logan Pause told the team's website. "But it gives an opportunity for guys to step up."
The Fire have won seven of eight at home, including the last three, and have been off 10 days since their last match.
Chicago had a three-game overall win streak snapped with a 4-2 loss to D.C. United on Aug. 22.
"Obviously, it wasn't one of our better performances of the year," assistant coach Mike Matkovich said. "... The (standings) are tight and the rest of the way out, the playoffs have begun. We need a good response against Houston."
- Houston Dynamo
- Marco Pappa