Nov 17, 2012, 5:00 PM EST
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
Dec 18, 2014, 11:50 PM EST
Luke Shaw is ready to make his return after nearly a month out of action.
Dec 18, 2014, 10:21 PM EST
Mix Diskerud is on the move, and he may be headed south of the border.
Dec 18, 2014, 9:14 PM EST
Chicharito isn’t getting games for Real Madrid, but his agent insists he won’t end his loan deal early.
Dec 18, 2014, 7:46 PM EST
It may be 14 years after the fact, but Paul Scholes is owning up to his fault in one of the greatest goals of all-time.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:20 PM EST
Inspired by Monday’s loss, the USWNT were out for vengeance — and goals — against Argentina.
Dec 18, 2014, 4:36 PM EST
Find out who went where in Stage 2 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft on Thursday.
Dec 18, 2014, 3:00 PM EST
As we head into the busy festive season, here’s how the rankings of power look before Week 17.
Dec 18, 2014, 2:46 PM EST
Winger set to return to full training, may return to action this Sunday at Anfield.
Dec 18, 2014, 2:11 PM EST
Germany end 2014 on top, as the USMNT sit steady inside the top 30.
Dec 18, 2014, 1:26 PM EST
Balotelli will now miss Liverpool’s match against Arsenal this weekend.
Dec 18, 2014, 12:45 PM EST
Rogers worries about anti-gay laws in Russia, Qatar during World Cup tournaments.
Dec 18, 2014, 11:46 AM EST
Scunthorpe win 14-13 on penalty kicks… really?
Dec 18, 2014, 11:10 AM EST
Klinsmann’s son make six saves, but gets second-yellow as youth side beat Germany.
Dec 18, 2014, 10:17 AM EST
USMNT attacker heading back to MLS.
Dec 18, 2014, 8:50 AM EST
Vegas, baby! New soccer stadium gets seal of approval from city council… all they need now is an MLS expansion franchise.
Dec 18, 2014, 8:19 AM EST
Reus has been speeding around in his Aston Martin without a license. Gets biggest motoring fine in German history.
Dec 18, 2014, 7:54 AM EST
Dig into all the latest gossip, right here.
Dec 17, 2014, 11:13 PM EST
Could Cole be returning to the Premier League?
Dec 17, 2014, 10:35 PM EST
Bad jokes make Christmas.
Dec 17, 2014, 10:10 PM EST
- Paul Scholes: Thierry Henry’s legendary goal vs. Man United was my fault 2
- Premier League Power Rankings: Arsenal, Everton rising, Saints falling 2
- Robbie Rogers: FIFA “insane” to host World Cups in Russia, Qatar 6
- Stoke City confirm Brek Shea is finalizing move to Orlando City 1
- Soccer stadium approved in Las Vegas, as MLS expansion talk heats up in Sin City 3
- Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus fined $665,000 for driving without a license 1