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When Kofi Sarkodie buried a late insurance goal in the Houston Dynamo’s 3-1 victory against D.C. United last Sunday, it not only provided the perfect cap to a strong second-half rally by the Dynamo, it also set the bar very high for D.C. to overcome in the second leg of their Eastern Conference finals series.
D.C. United must not only find a way to win by at least two goals on Sunday, they must find away to score multiple goals against a Houston defense that has turned downright stingy in the post-season, giving up three goals in four playoff matches.
Adding to D.C. United’s woes are the rash of injuries that crippled them in the first leg. Chris Pontius, Brandon McDonald and Marcelo Saragosa all had to leave the first leg with injuries, leaving their status for the second in question. Throw in the fact that starting right back Andy Najar is suspended for the second leg and you start to understand why the task is seen as an extremely difficult one.
D.C. United isn’t losing faith though, not with 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne DeRosario on the verge of returning from injury. The club is confident DeRosario will be able to play a part in Sunday’s decisive game at RFK Stadium, just how much a role remains to be seen.
So how will D.C. United pull off the comeback and book their place in the MLS Cup Final? Let us take a closer look at the D.C. United’s task, and chances of completing it:
First and foremost, D.C. United need a healthy Chris Pontius to have a real chance on Sunday. He is a force on the left flank and without him at his best, D.C. United’s already limited attack will have an even tougher time generating the goals they need. Pontius and Nick DeLeon give D.C. effective wing play that can stretch the Houston defense and provide opportunities for the likes of Lionard Pajoy and Branko Boskovic, two players who also need to step their game up if D.C. is to have any chance.
Something D.C. didn’t do enough in the first leg is go after Kofi Sarkodie on the defensive end. Sarkodie has a strong game in the first leg, and part of the reason for that as because D.C. didn’t do a good enough job of pinning him in defensively (part of the reason for that was because Pontius left the match early with the groin injury). Ben Olsen will want to send a steady diet of Pontius, DeLeon and DeRosario at Sarkodie to not only test him defensively, but to force him to stay home and not join the Dynamo attack.
Ben Olsen will have to think about starting two forwards. Pajoy simply isn’t good enough to lead the line alone and playing a 4-5-1 simply makes D.C. easy to deal with in the final third. If Dwayne DeRosario can start, then he can serve as a second striker. If not, Olsen will need to think about turning to Hamdi Salihi or Maicon Santos and dropping Saragosa. That would leave Perry Kitchen with some heavy lifting to do, but it would give Houston with more to worry about in their defensive third.
D.C. United will need to practice patience. If they get too desperate early on, and make mistakes, Houston has the players that can punish any openings D.C. United leaves in their defense. I know that many think Houston will bunker in the way they did in the second leg against Sporting Kansas City. I don’t think that happens again. For one, D.C. United doesn’t have as many weapons as Sporting KC. Secondly, Dom Kinnear obviously knows that his team nearly paid the price for being overly defensive.
A better approach for the Dynamo will be to look to push on the counterattack more and try to grab a precious goal that would force D.C. United to score three goals. This is why D.C. United has to start the game out patience and organized. That could be easier said than done, especially for a relatively inexperienced group from a playoff standpoint.
Houston has the edge in experience, and also head into the second leg healthier, but D.C. United can certainly make things interesting assuming Pontius is healthy and assuming DeRosario can contribute.
Without those two, D.C. United’s chances of a comeback are slim, but of Pontius and DeRosario play, D.C. United have the weapons for a dramatic turnaround.
What do you think of D.C. United’s chances? See them pulling off the comeback? Think Houston is too tough to give up a two-goal lead? What do you think D.C. needs to do to turn things around?
Share your thoughts below.