The new MLS season is just starting and yet Houston Dynamo coach Tab Ramos has already identified a 'must-win' game against the San Jose Earthquakes on opening day.
The Dynamo finished dead last in the Western Conference in 2020 and won only four games all year.
Ramos is therefore keen to ensure improved standards are quickly set, starting on Friday when San Jose visit.
"All MLS games you can either win or lose - the games are very competitive," Ramos said. "Having said that, this is a home game for us, a game that we feel we have to win.
"I don't feel it's a matter of having confidence. It's about coming out, executing, doing what we need to do, being serious about what we need to do and outworking our opponent.
"We know we have the support of our fans, so we're looking forward to that."
Opponents the Quakes had their preseason preparations disrupted by the passing of coach Matias Almeyda's father due to coronavirus.
Almeyda returned to his native Argentina as a result and spoke at length about his period of mourning ahead of the Houston game.
He is now keen to establish a "family" spirit within the San Jose team.
"Preseason for me, as everybody knows, was interrupted by the passing of my father," he said.
"I had to go back to Argentina. I came back and was able to be in preseason for a week.
"The guys worked very well, with lots of desire and lots of unity, trying to form a sporting family, which is what I'm most interested in."
Houston Dynamo – Fafa Picault
Picault has been signed from Texas rivals FC Dallas ahead of the new season. Although he had just three goals and a single assist in 2020, the forward offers Houston something different in attack, attempting 65 dribbles last term. Picault will be a "very important part of what we're doing", Ramos said this week.
San Jose Earthquakes – Chris Wondolowski
For the first time since the 2009 season in which he left Houston for San Jose, Wondolowski failed to reach double-figures in MLS last year. But ahead of turning 38 in January, his tally of eight goals – including one in the playoffs – was still mightily impressive. How much longer can the record goalscorer in league history go on?
- This will be the first time the Dynamo and Earthquakes open a season against each other. Houston have won the past four home matches against San Jose, as the Earthquakes have managed just two wins in 13 visits to Houston (D1 L10).
- The Dynamo have not lost any of their past nine season-opening matches (W6 D3) dating back to a 1-0 home loss to the Philadelphia Union to begin the 2011 season. This will be the ninth straight season Houston open at home, with their last road season opener coming at Chivas USA in 2012.
- San Jose have lost 14 of their past 16 regular season away matches (W2), winning the other two games in that time in Los Angeles. The last time the Quakes won an away match outside of California was a 3-1 victory at Vancouver on July 20, 2019.
- Darwin Quintero (seven goals, 10 assists) was one of three players to lead his team outright in goals and assists last season (also LA Galaxy's Cristian Pavon and Inter Miami's Lewis Morgan).
- Wondolowski has scored just two goals in 17 career games against former club Houston, with his 0.13 goals per 90 rate his lowest against any MLS team he has played more than once.
Updated April 15, 2021