Nov 17, 2012, 5:00 PM EDT
If having a little hill to climb seems somehow discouraging for D.C. United faithful, consider this: it’s only a hill, and not the mountain of a deficit to overcome that we see in the day’s other conference final.
D.C. United fell in Houston, 3-1, and must now make up the two goals when the teams meet at historic RFK Stadium in Sunday’s Eastern Conference final second-leg.
It won’t be easy against a visiting Houston Dynamo side (and its wily manager) that knows, historically speaking better than any MLS side yet, how to piece together a playoff result on the road.
One team will emerge. Either Houston will claim the day and appear in its second consecutive MLS Cup final or D.C. United will overcome the two-goal deficit and host MLS Cup in two weeks.
MLS Eastern Conference finals
Sunday’s Kickoff: RFK Stadium, 4 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
On D.C. United
- United knows plenty about sitting behind that dreaded playoff 8 ball. They needed a mighty effort, minus their top player, just to make the 17th MLS post-season “tournament.” Then they went into New York a week and a half back needing a victory at some point, whether in regulation play, extra time or penalty kicks. Rookie Nick DeLeon supplied the moment, claiming the game-winner in one of Major League Soccer’s most memorable playoffs to date.
- It certainly looks like D.C. United’s top attacker, out since early August, will make an appearance at some point. Dwayne De Rosario, the 2011 league MVP, seems ready.
- United is 12-1-5 at RFK this year, with a plus-20 goal difference. That’s a number that can inspire some confidence, for sure. The trick is that a close win won’t do. A two-goal victory will get the series into a 30-minute extra time.
- Both teams had a full week to recover and get their legs back, which surely helped coach Ben Olsen’s side; his players looked absolutely spent in the final 30 minutes of last week’s loss to Houston. In fact, some of the mental errors that led to goals can probably be traced to a side that was as emotionally spent as physically taxed.
- Still no Andy Najar, who is suspended. But the bigger loss would be left-sided attacker Chris Pontius, who struggled through a few minutes last week but may have ultimately done further damage to that groin injury.
- Marcelo Saragosa (knee) is also a concern. Lately he has paired effectively with Perry Kitchen as dual holding midfielders. Spirited center back Brandon McDonald seems ready after some health concern on his part.
- What Olsen says about his team’s state of mind: “We’re confident in the way we play at home. All year we have been aggressive and gone after teams and scored goals at home. So that part doesn’t necessarily need to change. We need to score goals, though, so there is a little bit of a different mind-set going into this game. It’s still a soccer game and we’re still confident in our ability to win games by two goals at home.”
- Bill Hamid is back off suspension and available for presumed selection over Joe Willis in goal.
- Time for long-time under-delivering Designated Player Branko Boskovic to stand and be counted. Period.
On the Houston Dynamo
- Houston is suddenly limping along, almost as badly as D.C. United. Ricardo Clark missed last week’s match and Adam Moffat left early and looks doubtful for this one. If Clark cannot perform (he remains questionable), Houston is without its top pair of central midfielders.
- Coach Dominic Kinnear’s team may also be without one of its starting center backs, Jermaine Taylor. Canadian international Andrew Hainault does not represent much drop-off, however, so that blow can be mitigated. Similarly, versatile attacker Calen Carr is beat up, but the Dynamo have depth at striker.
- English veteran Giles Barnes is suddenly a great asset, given the sudden array of ailments in orange.
- In terms of playing on the road, Houston was among the worst playoff teams, with a 3-9-5 record and a minus-12 goal difference. But … Kinnear’s team did go into Chicago and claim victory in an playoff elimination match. And the men in orange did go into Livestrong (carrying a two-goal margin) and survive. There are memories of last year’s playoff triumphs in Philadelphia and Kansas City to brace the belief.
- For better or worse, this series will be defined in part by one massive moment and how it could have potentially changed the series. Read about the Hainault decision here and here.
- Former U.S. national team striker Brian Ching has yet to play much of a role in the playoffs in what appears to be his final season. And speaking of “not playing much of a role,” although in a very different way, it’s time for winger Oscar Boniek Garcia to appear. On the bigger field at RFK (as opposed to the smaller one at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston) he should have room to stretch himself and take on defenders. They’ll need it.
- Tally Hall, in goal, has been everything Houston has needed. He has allowed just five goals in eight post-season matches over two years.
Houston cannot afford to sit back the way it did two weeks ago in a second round closer against Sporting Kansas City; there’s no reason to believe the Black and Red will squander as many wonderful chances Sunday as Kansas City did in that conference semifinal.
They’ll need lots of help in midfield possession from Brad Davis; his free kick and corner kick specialty will be of little use if they cannot hold the ball enough to move into attacking positions.
On the other hand, can the home team generate enough offensive push minus a full-strength De Rosario and quite possibly without the inspirational Pontius, too? In fact, without those two (or, those two at full strength, at least) and Najar, United could be without its top three attackers.
Unfortunately, it might all come down to injuries. If Clark can play (and manage to be his usual rangy self) Houston might just win this so-called war of attrition. Or, if De Rosario can play a big enough role, or if Pontius can get on the field for a while, that might just be enough for United to manage the deficit.
BONUS: Sponsor preview
Jul 2, 2015, 10:05 PM EDT
One last chance for Jurgen Klinsmann to tinker and fine-tune before the USMNT defends its Gold Cup title.
Jul 2, 2015, 8:53 PM EDT
Japan head coach Norio Sasaki: “I do not feel badly for Laura Bassett.”
2015 Gold Cup — Group C preview: Hobbled Mexico still favorites over Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba
Jul 2, 2015, 7:08 PM EDT
Mexico may have lost two Gold Cup starters in the last week, but they’re still heavy favorites in Group C.
USWNT’s Lloyd, Johnston, Rapinoe shorlisted for Women’s World Cup Golden Ball; Solo for Golden Glove
Jul 2, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Four USWNT players have been shortlisted for the Golden Ball and Golden Glove awards.
Jul 2, 2015, 3:35 PM EDT
Here’s a look at who Los Ticos will have to get by in the group stages. Can Canada and Jamaica make a deep run?
Jul 2, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
Pep is more than happy to keep Schweinsteiger around at the Allianz next season, but he’s becoming a little restless.
Jul 2, 2015, 2:25 PM EDT
Can Klinsmann’s side breeze through group play at the Gold Cup?
Jul 2, 2015, 1:40 PM EDT
The latest gossip is right here, with updates on two monster transfers.
Jul 2, 2015, 1:04 PM EDT
England’s head coach was full of pride and admiration for his team despite falling at the semifinal hurdle.
Jul 2, 2015, 11:57 AM EDT
Kilnsmann reveals he has decided to take the armband off Clint and hand it to Bradley.
Jul 2, 2015, 10:25 AM EDT
Describing the scene from England, as the Lionesses helped to inspire a nation this summer in Canada.
Jul 2, 2015, 9:23 AM EDT
French international is reportedly mulling over an offer from FCD. What do we think about this?
Jul 2, 2015, 8:47 AM EDT
Manchester United’s “Chicharito” will not play for El Tri this summer after being injured in a friendly.
Jul 2, 2015, 7:40 AM EDT
The U.S. Department of Justice wants to bring FIFA officials accused of corruption to the USA.
Jul 2, 2015, 12:59 AM EDT
Japan beat the U.S. to win the 2011 World Cup. The U.S. beat Japan to win the 2012 Olympics. Round 3 takes place Sunday in the 2015 Women’s World Cup final.
Jul 2, 2015, 12:28 AM EDT
A Major League Soccer franchise is going to win the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Jul 1, 2015, 11:57 PM EDT
Mark Sampson spoke in detail about the character of Laura Bassett and how he hopes girls in England are inspired for the future.
Jul 1, 2015, 11:11 PM EDT
Full credit to England for an inspiring World Cup, and to Japan for getting to a second straight World Cup final.
Jul 1, 2015, 10:51 PM EDT
Three weeks from tonight are the Gold Cup semifinals, with the final on July 26 in Philadelphia.
Jul 1, 2015, 10:11 PM EDT
From Brandi Chastain and Jeb Brovsky to total strangers from England and beyond, my goodness, people are trying to console Laura Bassett.
- USA vs. Guatemala preview: USMNT’s final tune-up before 2015 Gold Cup 0
- 2015 Gold Cup – Group A preview: USMNT favorites over Honduras, Panama, Haiti 0
- Clint Dempsey replaced by Michael Bradley as USMNT captain for Gold Cup 5
- Despite devastating World Cup exit, England’s women inspired a nation 7
- US ask Switzerland to extradite seven FIFA officials 0
- The world wants Laura Bassett to know that her own goal is nothing to be ashamed of… 10