Skip to content

MLS playoff preview: Houston Dynamo at D.C. United

Nov 17, 2012, 5:00 PM EDT

DCU fans

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

(Official league preview is here)

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.

(MORE: Houston’s central pair hoping for health)

  • 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.

(MORE: Three Good Questions for Tally Hall)

Bottom line:

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

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Latest Posts
  1. Steve McClaren fired by Derby County — Is Newcastle United his next stop?

    May 25, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT

    Steve McClaren, Derby County FC Steve McClaren, Derby County FC

    McClaren was Mike Ashley’s first managerial target earlier this month. Now unemployed, will McClaren end up at Newcastle United?

  2. VIDEO: Behind the scenes with Xavi Hernandez before his final game at the Camp Nou

    May 25, 2015, 10:26 PM EDT

    Xavi Hernandez, FC Barcelona Xavi Hernandez, FC Barcelona

    Go behind the scenes, all-access style, with Xavi on the day of his final Camp Nou appearance.

  3. Dani Alves: If Barcelona don’t start showing me respect, I’ll leave this summer

    May 25, 2015, 9:21 PM EDT

    Dani Alves, FC Barcelona Dani Alves, FC Barcelona

    With his contract expiring this summer, Dani Alves is posturing — and doing it well — for upcoming negotiations.

  4. MLS Player of the Week — Week 12: Columbus Crew SC’s Kei Kamara

    May 25, 2015, 8:08 PM EDT

    Kei Kamara, Columbus Crew SC — Photo credit: Columbus Crew SC Kei Kamara, Columbus Crew SC — Photo credit: Columbus Crew SC

    We’re only through 12 weeks of the 2015 season, but one man is threatening to run away with the Golden Boot race already.

  5. MLS Team of the Week — Stars of Week 12

    May 25, 2015, 6:17 PM EDT

    Benoit Cheyrou, Toronto FC Benoit Cheyrou, Toronto FC

    Four of the league’s bottom-five teams won over the weekend, making this week’s TOTW a bit of a “who’s that?” instead of a “who’s who.”

  6. In a career full of blunders, firing Carlo Ancelotti is Florentino Perez’s worst mistake yet

    May 25, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT

    Perez Getty Images

    The problem at Real Madrid isn’t the manager year after year, it’s a problem of accountability, and it comes from the top.

  7. Roma top Lazio in Rome derby, guarantee 2nd-place finish, Champions League spot

    May 25, 2015, 4:46 PM EDT

    Francesco Totti, AS Roma Francesco Totti, AS Roma

    Few games can make an entire season the way one victory in the Rome derby can do. Only this time, there was CL football on the line.

  8. 2014-15 Premier League season review: The managers

    May 25, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC

    It’s time to look back at the men who shaped the Premier League’s teams this season: the managers victorious, and gone.

  9. Report: Russia wants to use prison labor to prep for 2018 World Cup

    May 25, 2015, 3:10 PM EDT

    FIFA FIFA

    The workers would make close to $300 a month for the full-time work.

  10. Check out the L.A. Galaxy’s classy full-page Gerrard ad in Liverpool Echo

    May 25, 2015, 2:21 PM EDT

    Liverpool v Sunderland - Premier League Getty Images

    The American club wisely made its role in the advertisement understated, as it salutes its new midfielder.

  11. Florentino Perez announces firing of Carlo Ancelotti by Real Madrid

    May 25, 2015, 1:39 PM EDT

    AncelottiCup AP

    The Italian manager had more or less conceded his job status earlier Monday due to a bout with cervical stenosis.

  12. 2014-15 Premier League season review: Americans Abroad

    May 25, 2015, 1:07 PM EDT

    during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Liverpool at Britannia Stadium on May 24, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England. Getty Images

    It’s time to take a look back at the seasons of four American players in the Premier League, and one who is no longer.

  13. Middlesbrough 0-2 Norwich City: Comfortable Canaries back in Premier League

    May 25, 2015, 11:56 AM EDT

    during the Sky Bet Championship Playoff Final between Middlesbrough and Norwich City at Wembley Stadium on May 25, 2015 in London, England. Getty Images

    It’s called the richest game in the world, with an estimated $180 million on the line, though it didn’t provide a wealth of scoring chances.

  14. Ten biggest storylines of the Premier League season that was

    May 25, 2015, 11:12 AM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpta2ytvim2vjnzvmnmixmde1nmzmmji2ngzkmwu4ytq4 AP

    Now, it’s time to take a look back at — in no particular order — 10 storylines that helped make the Premier League season a memorable one.

  15. FOLLOW LIVE — Lineups as Middlesbrough and Norwich duel for final Premier League slot

    May 25, 2015, 10:01 AM EDT

    LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 25:  Fans walk to the stadium prior to the Sky Bet Championship Playoff Final between Middlesbrough and Norwich City at Wembley Stadium on May 25, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Norwich is hoping for a quick fire return to the PL after being relegated last season, while Middlesbrough was sent packing to the second flight in 2009.

  16. VIDEO: Premier League’s Top 10 goals of the season, from A(dam) to Z(amora)

    May 25, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Crystal Palace v Queens Park Rangers - Premier League Getty Images

    See what Robbie Earle, Robbie Mustoe and Kyle Martino tabbed as top of the pops in a surprisingly QPR-heavy Top Ten list.

  17. West Ham lays out coach criteria, as top candidate Bilic says he’ll leave Besiktas

    May 25, 2015, 8:45 AM EDT

    Arsene Wenger, Slaven Bilic AP

    The Hammers have specific characteristics in mind for the next Premier League boss at the Boleyn Ground.

  18. USMNT’s Morales signs new deal with Ingolstadt after Bundesliga promotion

    May 25, 2015, 7:54 AM EDT

    INGOLSTADT, GERMANY - MAY 17:  Alfredo Morales of FC Ingolstadt and team mates celebrate the winning the shield after the 2. Bundesliga match between FC Ingolstadt and RB Leipzig at Audi Sportpark on May 17, 2015 in Ingolstadt, Germany.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Morales played sparingly for Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga from 2011-12.

  19. MLS transfers: Didier Drogba mulling move, Andrea Pirlo “received offer”

    May 25, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT

    article-1202950-05D61EA7000005DC-689_468x357 Reuters

    MLS is reportedly pursing the signatures of Andrea Pirlo and Didier Drogba.

  20. Serie A roundup: Fiorentina qualify for Europa League, Sampdoria fall short

    May 24, 2015, 11:32 PM EDT

    FBL-EUR-C3-FIORENTINA-TRAINING Getty Images

    Roundup of Serie A’s final Sunday of the 2014-15 campaign.

Featured video

Chelsea lift the 2014-15 PL trophy