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Eastern Conference Championship

Match Preview: Houston Dynamo vs. D.C. United

HOUSTON DYNAMO vs D.C. UNITED
BBVA COMPASS STADIUM, Houston, Texas
March 2, 2013 (WEEK 1, MLS Game #3)
7 p.m. CT (NBCSN)

A scant three months ago, the Houston Dynamo and D.C. United were battling for Eastern Conference supremacy – and now the clubs kick off the new season against each other at BBVA Compass Stadium before an NBC Sports Network audience. The Dynamo won that Eastern Conference Championship on their way to a second consecutive MLS Cup and fourth in seven seasons in Houston; United fell a step short of the title game in their first trip back to the postseason in five years.

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REFEREE: Baldomero Toledo. SAR (bench): Sean Hurd; JAR (opposite): Ian Anderson; 4th: Edvin Jurisevic
MLS Career: 146 games; FC/gm: 25.0; Y/gm: 3.4; R: 48; pens: 52

DISABLED LIST: none
SUSPENDED: DC: Dwayne De Rosario (through March 10)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none

HEAD-TO-HEAD
ALL-TIME (15 meetings): Dynamo 9 wins, 27 goals … United 4 wins, 15 goals … Ties 2
AT HOUSTON (8 meetings): Dynamo 7 wins, 17 goals … United 0 wins, 4 goals … Ties 1
RETURN MATCHES: 5/8: D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo, 7 p.m. ET; D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo, 1:30 p.m. ET (NBC)

LAST YEAR (MLS):
4/28: DC 3, HOU 2 (Santos 11, 70; De Rosario 54 – Bruin 50, 59)
5/12: HOU 1, DC 0 (Davis 67)
7/15: HOU 4, DC 0 (Davis 19; Bruin 37; Garcia 62; Ching 89)
•    The Dynamo have never lost to D.C. United in Houston, winning eight of nine meetings all-time in league and cup play (with one draw), including a pair of league victories by shutout last year.
•    The teams met in the Eastern Conference Championship a year ago, the Dynamo claiming a 3-1 victory at BBVA Compass Stadium in the first leg, before the teams reached a 1-1 draw at RFK Stadium to send Houston to MLS Cup 2012.
•    United’s 3-2 home win in the first meeting a season ago was their first against Houston at home since 2009.
•    Coaches record: Ben Olsen vs. HOU: P6 W1 L4 D1 … Dominic Kinnear vs. DC: P20 W10 L6 D4

HOUSTON DYNAMO
MLS Cup runners-up for a second consecutive season, the Houston Dynamo have reached the league championship game four times in seven seasons of existence. They come off a season where they had to do it the hard way, finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference, coming all the way from the Knockout Round. Dominic Kinnear begins his eighth season in charge in Houston, the only coach the Dynamo have ever known.

WATCH: The Scouting Report on the Houston Dynamo

TEAM NEWS
•    The Dynamo capped their preseason campaign on Saturday with a 2-1 loss to the USL PRO Charleston Battery in the last match of the Carolina Challenge Cup at Blackbaud Stadium. Giles Barnes gave Houston a 16th-minute lead, but Dane Kelly hit for the leveler two minutes later, then Austin Savage scored the winner 16 minutes from time.
•    Here’s the Dynamo team: Tally Hall; Kofi Sarkodie (Warren Creavalle 78), Bobby Boswell, Jermaine Taylor, Corey Ashe (Mike Chabala 46); Boniek Garcia (Alex Dixon 78), Giles Barnes (Luiz Camargo 71), Adam Moffat (Ricardo Clark 61), Brad Davis (Brian Ownby 80); Will?Bruin (Jason Johnson 78), Cam Weaver (Brian Ching 68)
•    Kinnear is trying to juggle his squad’s minutes ahead of the season opener – and the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal on March 5 vs. Club Santos Laguna of Mexico.
•    "We got a busy next 10 days with the home opener and then we get the first game of the CONCACAF," Kinnear said. "Preseason has gone pretty well. I'm not really thrilled about losing this game here. But you just have to brush it aside and get ready for D.C."
•    The Dynamo will start the season unable to call upon strikers Calen Carr and Omar Cummings. Carr underwent knee surgery after suffering the injury during the MLS Cup Final, while Cummings underwent surgery in late January to repair a nagging injury suffered while with the Jamaican national team.
•    Two other regulars returned to action before the end of the Carolina Challenge Cup. Ricardo Clark came off a slight knee injury suffered in the tournament opener, while left back Corey Ashe played 45 minutes in the final match, and both are expected to be available for selection.
•    “It really is a game-by-game thing. After D.C., you get with Theron [Enns, head athletic trainer] and see how the guys are feeling and then you take it from there,” said Kinnear. “It's good we have that [league] bye [March 9-10] so we can prepare for the second leg [vs. Santos]. We know the first game is important, but you want to make sure you put a healthy team on the field.”
•    Giles Barnes was given the start in central midfield in the CCC finale, slotting in alongside Adam Moffat.
•    “He’s going to be in the mix, everyone knows that,” Kinnear said. “He has the ability and remaining healthy is important for him. These last two weeks of preseason are important for him to make sure that come March 2 he’s 90 minutes fit.”

OFFSEASON TRANSACTIONS

IN: DF Eric Brunner (12/3/12 - trade from Portland); FW Omar Cummings (12/23/12 - trade from Colorado); FW Jason Johnson (1/17/13 - SuperDraft); FW Bryan Salazar (2/14/13 - Homegrown); MF Andrew Driver (2/20/13 - loan from Heart of Midlothian)

OUT: MF Colin Clark (12/3/12 - out of contract); DF Andre Hainault (1/10/13 - out of contract); MF Josue Soto (1/24/13 - waived); MF Je-Vaughn Watson (2/19/13 - trade to FC Dallas)

D.C. UNITED
After making a return to the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007, D.C. United are looking for a greater return to glory this season. United fell just short of a sixth MLS Cup Final in 2012, falling to the Houston Dynamo in the East semifinals after dispatching the New York Red Bulls. Ben Olsen begins his third full season in charge of the club, having taken over during the 2010 season.

WATCH: The Scouting Report on D.C. United

TEAM NEWS
•    D.C. United closed out their preseason with a 2-0 victory against Philadelphia Union on Saturday in the final match of the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic in Orlando. Dwayne De Rosario put United ahead in the 39th minute from the penalty spot, and Lionard Pajoy doubled the lead at the three-quarter mark of the match.
•    Here’s the United team: Bill Hamid; Chris Korb (James Riley 46’), Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, Daniel Woolard; Nick DeLeon (Kyle Porter 83’), John Thorrington (Marcelo Saragosa 46’), Perry Kitchen, Chris Pontius (Lewis Neal 87’); Dwayne De Rosario (Marcos Sanchez 65’), Lionard Pajoy (Rafael 77’)
•    The victory in the Disney finale came after a 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City and a 1-1 draw with the Montréal Impact in games involving MLS competition. United defeated defending NASL champion Tampa Bay Rowdies 4-0.
•    The preseason finale marked the debut of Panamanian international Marcos Sánchez, who recorded an assist in setting up United’s second goal.
•    “Marcos is highly technical player who can play a number of different spots in the midfield,” D.C. United general manager Dave Kasper said. “He has had a great two months of performances in both the UNCAF and World Cup qualifying with Panama, and he sealed a roster spot with his time during preseason.”
•    Having been battling a groin injury suffered during the U.S. national team camp in January – the same one that knocked him out of of last year's Eastern Conference Championship – Chris Pontius played 87 minutes in the preseason finale.
•    “I think I really turned the corner in the past two weeks,” the 25-year-old Pontius said. “It’s been good to participate in every practice. For me, that’s been a huge step forward in getting my fitness back up where it needs to be and getting some minutes in a game.”
•    United made big news when they signed Guatemalan striker Carlos Ruiz to a contract. Ruiz has 88 goals in MLS – ninth all-time – last playing in the league with Philadelphia Union in 2011 before leaving to join Veracruz in Mexico.
•    “I’m going to work hard over the next nine days and we’ll see. Ben is going to decide after he sees me during training and will decide if I’m going to be available for the game against Houston. I’m very excited to play against Houston. For me playing soccer is a passion so I’m going to be ready for whatever is needed of me,” Ruiz said.
•    United also acquired veteran defender James Riley from Chivas USA in mid-February, and he played 45 minutes at right back in the preseason finale.

OFFSEASON TRANSACTIONS

IN: MF John Thorrington (12/14/12 - Re-Entry Draft Stage 2); FW Rafael (1/9/13 - loan from Bahia); FW Michael Seaton (1/14/13 - Homegrown); MF Syamsir Alam (1/25/13 - loan from CS Visé); FW Casey Townsend (1/25/14 - trade from Chivas USA); DF James Riley (2/14/13 - trade from Chivas USA); FW Carlos Ruiz (2/20/13 - allocation); MF Marcos Sánchez (2/26/13 - loan from Tauro FC)

OUT: MF Branko Boskovic (11/21/12 - contract terminated); DF Mike Chabala (12/3/12 - option declined); DF Emiliano Dudar (12/3/12 - option declined); FW Maicon Santos (12/3/12 - option declined); MF Stephen King (12/3/12 - option declined); FW Long Tan (1/25/13 - waived); MF Andy Najar (1/30/13 - transfer to Anderlecht)