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 31, 2014, 10:03 AM EDT
The World Cup praise has been flowing for Klinsmann in international circles, though American analysts like Alexi Lalas, Eric Wynalda and others have condemned the manager’s approach as too cautious.
Jul 31, 2014, 9:03 AM EDT
Neymar’s health could be the key to whether Barcelona can weather the Luis Suarez suspension in pursuit of La Liga’s title.
Jul 31, 2014, 8:20 AM EDT
The Red Devils’ owners are making more of the club public following the death of patriarch Malcolm, and the club could lose adidas money if on-field success doesn’t return.
Jul 31, 2014, 7:51 AM EDT
Since putting in a good effort for the USMNT at the World Cup, Jones had been sorting out his next career move and partying with celebrities like Paris Hilton and Mike Tyson.
Jul 31, 2014, 12:23 AM EDT
Thierry Henry’s second half equalizer takes earns a point at Rio Tinto.
Jul 30, 2014, 10:43 PM EDT
The Revs’ eight-game losing streak ends thanks to another strong night from Lee Nguyen.
Jul 30, 2014, 9:20 PM EDT
The Red fall nine points back of second place United in the Eastern Conference.
Jul 30, 2014, 8:27 PM EDT
24-year-old defender loaned out for the seventh time.
Ugly scenes in Northern Ireland as Mexican U-19 player attempts to kick opponent’s head during Milk Cup brawl
Jul 30, 2014, 7:29 PM EDT
Game is eventually cut short after a yet unnamed player aimed at the head of a fallen opponent.
Jul 30, 2014, 6:46 PM EDT
Atlético’s interest could develop into Chicharito’s best option.
Jul 30, 2014, 5:58 PM EDT
Nick De Santis will stay with the Impact, albeit in an administrative role.
Jul 30, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT
Everton’s leading scorer returns to Goodison on a permanent basis.
Jul 30, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT
With immediate effect, U.S.’s women’s league will pause mid-half if when it’s too hot.
Jul 30, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT
Liverpool roll into town and people freak out! Watch this incredible reaction to Stevie G signing autographs.
Jul 30, 2014, 2:46 PM EDT
Reports from Texas state Jurgen Klinsmann’s side are playing Colombia in September.
Jul 30, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT
Union grab Algerian goalkeeper Mbolhi, throw MacMath’s future in doubt.
Jul 30, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT
One of the most influential men in world soccer passed away on Wednesday at the age of 82.
Jul 30, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT
After success at the 2014 World Cup, vanishing spray is coming to the PL.
Jul 30, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
Shaw: “I didn’t come into United thinking it’s going to be much harder and that’s something I made a mistake on.”
Jul 30, 2014, 12:03 PM EDT
Ronaldo flexing the abs as he is set to appear in the largest-ever Men’s Health front cover campaign.
- Simeone praises Klinsmann’s US program that “seduces us as coaches” 0
- Neymar’s recovery from World Cup back injury “almost 100 percent” 0
- Reports: Jermaine Jones coming to Chicago, move welcomed by Fire 0
- Atlético Madrid latest club linked with Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández 3
- Romelu Lukaku completes permanent, $47 million move to Everton 11
- Report: US to play friendly vs. Colombia in San Antonio 1