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Crew-Dynamo Preview

Jul 9, 2010 - 5:59 PM By BRETT HUSTON STATS Writer

Columbus (8-2-3) at Houston (5-7-3), 8:30 p.m. EDT

The Columbus Crew appear to have bounced back from their pre-World Cup break slump with a pair of victories. Three weeks off has yet to help the Houston Dynamo get back in the win column.

The Eastern Conference-leading Crew look for a third straight victory Saturday night when they visit Robertson Stadium, while the Dynamo hope returning home can help them snap a five-match winless streak that dates to late May.

Columbus (8-2-3) was 0-2-1 during a three-game stretch prior to its three-week break, but the layoff appears to have helped the East's top team. Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Eric Brunner scored in a 2-0 win over D.C. United on June 26, then Adam Moffat and Jason Garey struck just before the end of the first half last Saturday in a 2-1 victory over Chicago.

"I'm happy with the overall performance," coach Robert Warzycha said. "This team has jelled and whoever we put on the field knows his role and tries to help the team. Tactically (Saturday) was one of our best games. The players were in the right places. There were the right combinations. We were very solid in the back."

Houston's back line has been anything but solid lately, as it's been outscored 13-7 in going 0-3-2 since May 22. The two draws have come since the Dynamo (5-7-3) returned from the World Cup break, including a 1-1 result July 1 at Toronto.

Brian Ching gave Houston the lead in the 72nd minute before Dan Gargan's 83rd-minute equalizer in a game that featured three red cards.

"Yeah, you know, a little disappointed we didn't come away with three points just because we had the lead," Ching said after scoring his first goal in three games. "When the season isn't going well, you have to go out there and play, and that's what we did tonight. It wasn't pretty, but we got a point out of it, and we're happy with that."

Houston's winless streak is its longest since an 0-1-5 stretch to begin the 2008 season, and that was also the last time it beat the Crew. The teams drew 1-1 in the 2009 season opener as Ching and Schelotto scored, and Columbus won the rematch 2-1 at home Sept. 13 on Eddie Gaven's late penalty kick.

The Dynamo won't have Joseph Ngwenya for this game after the Zimbabwean midfielder was sent off against Toronto, but Houston's biggest concern likely lies in its defense. It's been outscored 8-3 in the last 15 minutes and stoppage time of each half, signaling a lack of focus in finishing.

Fourteen of the Crew's 20 goals have come in those stretches, including Moffat and Garey's strikes against the Fire.

These teams meet again July 24 in Columbus. While that's Houston's next league game, the Crew host Kansas City and New York prior to the rematch.