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Houston, New York battle for East lead

The Houston Dynamo last lost at home more than a year ago, a span including 18 regular-season matches and two stadiums.

One more win Friday night, something the Dynamo have done in 14 of their last 18 matches at Robertson Stadium and new BBVA Compass Stadium, and the 2011 MLS Cup runner-up will lead the Eastern Conference.

Red Bull New York, which leads the East, stands in the way.

Houston (10-5-7) was unbeaten in its final eight matches at Robertson Stadium, and has continued to produce results at BBVA - which just opened in May.

The Dynamo have seven wins and three draws at home this season, and will carry a four-game win streak overall into the matchup with the Red Bulls.

While Houston has quietly made a run at the top spot in the East, a conference Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell said was "a force to be reckoned with," the Red Bulls continue to piece together one of the most formidable rosters in MLS.

New York (11-6-5) signed Australian international and longtime English Premier League player Tim Cahill late last month as its third designated player.

Cahill, who spent his career with Millwall and Everton, joins Thierry Henry as well as Rafa Marquez as designated players for the Red Bulls.

The 32-year-old Cahill will provide a link from defense, where Marquez plays, to offense, where Henry and Kenny Cooper have combined for 24 goals this year. Cahill, a playmaker who can also score, makes New York even more dynamic.

Houston features just one designated player, Honduran Oscar Boniek Garcia, and he carries a much lower profile than any of the New York stars. Also, defender Geoff Cameron is set to join Stoke City, pending receipt of a work permit.

Even with Cameron out of the mix recently, Houston has continued to earn three points in its last three matches without the central defender.

Just one point behind New York, and level on points with Sporting Kansas City, Houston will focus on the future.

With a strong 6-3-6 record against East opponents, the Dynamo will try to earn some revenge for a 1-0 loss at New York earlier this season, and gain momentum for the second leg of a home-and-home series Aug. 10 at Red Bull Arena.

"When you play a team once you don't really create a bad-blood situation. But you play a team three times and it���s going to create some animosity," Boswell said.

"You'll see it create some inner-conference rivalries and that's good."

New York has become a rival for just about every team in MLS.

Cahill debuted Tuesday in a friendly against Tottenham, a 2-1 loss. But with another star on board, opponents will be gunning for one of the most-talented teams in MLS every week.

"Even if we're still winning the Eastern Conference, it's up to us and in our hands if we want to win (MLS Cup) this year. We definitely have the talent for it," New York coach Hans Backe said.

"The experience Tim has from the Premier League and the World Cup games, it's massive for us. Most of the teams in this league are a little inconsistent. I think with Tim's signing, we will have a central midfield and hopefully then a team that can be more consistent."