Time is running out for Houston to make a run to the MLS playoffs, and that sense of urgency will be palpable on Saturday when the Dynamo face their latest "do-or-die" match, this one against the Portland Timbers at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
The Dynamo (7-13-7, 28 points) are in 10th place in the Western Conference and 13 points below the final playoff spot with just seven matches to play.
The hole that Houston has dug for itself came via a 10-match winless streak and losses in seven of its past eight MLS games, including a 4-2 defeat at the hands of FC Dallas in the Texas Derby on Sept. 1.
Houston coach Wilmer Cabrera said he intends to approach every remaining game like it's do or die, starting with the Timbers' visit in which the teams will scrap for their postseason fortunes.
"We just have to think that every game for us going to be a final," Cabrera said. "We need to play and give our best. If we do our best, we need to come back to our confidence, and the mentality that we're a good team. The results are what give you confidence."
Things will have to change in a hurry if the Dynamo want to duplicate last year's run to the Western Conference finals -- a stretch that included eliminating Portland in the postseason.
"We're going to continue working, we're going to continue fighting, because we cannot be forgetting how to defend, how to work together," Cabrera said. "Now it's about pride, to prove ourselves that we can come back, we can play, and we can avoid making so many mistakes."
Houston likes to play rough-and-tumble soccer, but midfielders Boniek Garcia, Darwin Ceren, and Adam Lundqvist will have to temper that style against the Timbers as they would be suspended after their next caution.
Portland (12-7-8, 44 points) can move up to third place in the Western Conference with a win Saturday. The Timbers are coming off a 2-0 victory over Colorado on Sept. 8 that extended their unbeaten streak to three matches, which followed four straight losses.
Sebastian Blanco set up goals by Jeremy Ebobisse just before the halftime break and Diego Valeri midway through the second half in the win over the Rapids.
"We created so many chances against Colorado," Blanco said after the win. "With the last seven games (of the regular season), every game is very important. Now we have a week to prepare. We'll start to recover rather than training hard. We know that the last seven games and playoffs will be hard, so we'll need to use this week to get ready."
Blanco will be suspended after his next caution.
The match against Houston is the first of three in an eight-day stretch for the Timbers.
"Definitely this stretch is even more important because these points are going to get you the possibility to accomplish the goals to be in the playoffs," Portland coach Giovanni Savarese said. "Every game is crucial, every point is important, and we're looking at it that way."
This is the second meeting this season between the teams. The Timbers won 2-1 on July 28 at Providence Park.
Portland leads the all-time series 5-4, with four draws. Houston has never lost to Portland at home, going 3-0-3, including a 2-2 draw in the most recent match in the Bayou City on July 29, 2017.