Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
The Houston Dynamo are sitting pretty, but D.C. United have some factors playing in their favor as they look to pull off an improbable comeback to reach the MLS Cup final.
United faces a two-goal deficit after becoming the latest team to lose in Houston, but they will be playing at home in front of their loud fans and star attacking player Dwayne De Rosario is expected to be available off the bench. Throw in the fact that starting goalkeeper Bill Hamid will be back in between the pipes after serving his one-game suspension for the red card he received in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals, and United has plenty to be optimistic about.
The not-so-good news for Sunday’s hosts, however, is that Chris Pontius is a game-time decision due the groin injury he picked up in last weekend’s 3-1 loss at BBVA Compass Stadium. If Pontius cannot play, United will lose a big part of their attacking punch and they will need players like rookie Nick DeLeon to step up and fill the void so as to have a chance of pulling level on aggregate.
For the Dynamo, the task is simple: Do not lose by more than one goal. Dominic Kinnear is as experienced a head coach as there is when it comes to MLS playoffs, so Houston has to be feeling good about maneuvering its way through this tricky second leg and on to MLS Cup final. What makes things even better for the Dynamo is the play of Will Bruin, who is the leading scorer in the playoffs with four goals.
Here is a closer look at the second leg of the Eastern Conference finals:
D.C. UNITED vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO
RFK Stadium, Washington D.C.: Nov. 18, 4pm, NBC Sports
SEASON SERIES: Prior to this past weekend’s win, the Dynamo already held a 2-1 advantage over United after three regular season games this season. The home team has won each of the four games played thus far in 2012.
KEY PLAYERS – D.C. UNITED: M Chris Pontius, GK Bill Hamid, D Brandon McDonald, M Nick DeLeon HOUSTON DYNAMO: M Brad Davis, M Oscar Boniek Garcia, F Will Bruin, GK Tally Hall.
MATCH-UP TO WATCH- Bobby Boswell vs. Chris Pontius. The D.C. United forward is a game-time decision for Sunday’s match due to a groin injury, but if he starts he will be the player Houston will need to shutdown to hold onto their two-goal lead. Pontius has proven he is capable of making an impact on games and coming through in big moments, so Dynamo centerback Bobby Boswell will need to continue to be a rock in the back.
OUTLOOK – D.C. United are in a hole, as they need a two-goal win to keep themselves alive. Playing in their favor is that the home team has won each of the four times these two teams have met, but United is in need of some serious offensive punch.
For that reason, you can expect United head coach Ben Olsen to deploy attacking tactics while Houston Dynamo head coach Dom Kinnear has his team absorb pressure and hit back on the counter. There is also a good chance that when the Dynamo have possession of the ball, they will try to find the red-hot Will Bruin.
The Dynamo are up by two goals and another would all but assure them advancement to a second straight MLS Cup final, but D.C. will come out attacking in an effort to make sure that doesn’t happen. Playing at home in front of their own fans, D.C. will have an advantage and they could also get a boost if Pontius and De Rosario are able to start and come off the bench, respectively. If they do, D.C. will have enough firepower to turn the series around, but without that tandem, Houston should be able to hold on for the series victory.
How do you see the second leg going? Expecting the Dynamo to sit back and defend? Think United has any chance of winning this series?
Share your thoughts below.