There isn’t a more fitting Canada Day opponent for Toronto FC than the Houston Dynamo.
Before Toronto FC arrived in MLS, no franchise in this league had done more for Canadian soccer than the Dynamo.
It won two MLS Cups as the San Jose Earthquakes and two more after the move to Houston in 2005 — with Canadian national team keeper Pat Onstad and
Dwayne De Rosario leading the way. Onstad made the saves, while DeRo scored clutch goal after clutch goal.
Onstad, at 42, is still between the sticks for the Dynamo. De Rosario has moved on to become the centre of the Toronto FC attack. But Houston has two more Canadians in the fold: Adrian Serioux, who was discarded by TFC at the outset of training camp, and national-team regular Andrew Hainault, who is a mainstay on the Dynamo backline.
So, why is the Dynamo Team Canada South? Hainault— who spent time with the Montreal Impact in 2005 before heading across the Atlantic to play in the Czech Republic, returning to North America in 2009 — thinks it’s because coach Dominic Kinnear listens to the Canadian vets he’s coached, both past and present. When they tell him about Canadian talent that’s available, he listens.
“I think it was because Pat and Dwayne did so well with the Earthquakes,” said Hainault. “So, when Adrian was available, Dwayne put in a good word for him with Dom. Dwayne and Adrian are close and Dwayne recommended him. And, in my case, Pat put in a good word with Dom for me."
But, even though Houston hasn’t missed the playoffs since the franchise moved to the Gulf Coast, this season has been a struggle. The Dynamo has got just one point out of its last four MLS matches.
Before the season, the Dynamo lost its best attacking midfielder Stuart Holden, who left for Bolton Wanderers. Holding midfielder Ricardo Clark went to Eintracht Frankfurt. Both were at the World Cup with the U.S. national team. To compensate, the team moved Geoff Cameron, one of the best defenders into the league, into the middle of the park. He was outstanding — until he tore his PCL. Cameron will miss the rest of the season.
When Cameron went down, the slide began. Houston is 5-7-2, good enough only for sixth in the West.
"It feels like we haven't been getting the rub of the green or the ball doesn't bounce our way,” said Hainault. “But we're not sitting in the locker room after games saying we are unlucky. We know that we have to make our own luck."
And this is a Houston team that can be dangerous. Look out for Jamaican midfielder Lovel Palmer, who scored the winner in the Dynamo’s U.S. Open Cup triumph over Miami FC on Tuesday. and 20-year-old Danny Cruz, who was one of the finalists in June player of the month voting.
So, even though Hainault will see some familiar faces in the crowd during Thursday’s game at BMO Field, he wants the happy Canada Day to end when the national anthem stops.
"It will be nice to be in Canada; my uncle and grandfather live in Toronto, so I will have them and other friends at the game.. It will be great to hear the Canadian national anthem before the game, on Canada Day. But once the game is on, it's not like we want to see Toronto FC do well because it'd be nice for them to do well on Canada Day. We have a job to do."