WASHINGTON – The Houston Dynamo have been here before. Just 10 days ago, in fact.
Up two goals by virtue of a 3-1 first-leg win heading in Sunday’s second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship against D.C. United at RFK Stadium (4 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), it’s only natural for Houston to glean a few lessons from the game that got them here.
Despite dominating the first leg vs. Sporting KC in Houston – the same formula the Dynamo used to near identical effect in a 3-1 victory against D.C. – the second leg wasn’t nearly so open and shut. Houston had just 29 percent of the possession and rarely strung together more than a few passes at a time, allowing SKC to push their backline to the limit and pepper the 18-yard box with cross after cross.
Head to Head: Houston's Dominic Kinnear vs. D.C.'s Ben Olsen
Still, the Dynamo survived. This time around, though, they’re hoping it won’t be such a nervy process, a task that starts with preventing D.C. from hoarding the ball.
Final Look: Dynamo ready for anything
“We’re looking to be a little bit more composed,” midfielder Brad Davis said. “I know they’re going to be pressing high. They’ve got to score two goals. That’s what’s going to have to happen eventually, so all of us need to settle down a little bit, try to play out of pressure a little bit more, because if you break that first line of pressure, the game should open up a little bit for us.”
And although Houston rolled past United by virtue of three unanswered second-half goals last Sunday, they know Ben Olsen’s side is more than capable of replicating Sporting’s suffocating pressure in spurts.
That was never more apparent than on Nick DeLeon’s opener at BBVA Compass Stadium, when Kofi Sarkodie and Boniek García were stripped of possession on the sideline, igniting the counterattack that the rookie eventually finished to give the visitors an early lead.
Another similar breakdown is exactly what Houston are hoping to avoid. The longer they can maintain their two-goal advantage – or perhaps even extend it – the more pressure D.C. will be under to reverse their first-leg hole with the seconds ticking away.
There’s no real need for Dominic Kinnear to drive that point home, though. At this stage, he’d just be preaching to the orange-clad choir.
“You don’t really have to talk too much to these guys this time of year,” Kinnear said. “They know what’s going on. If you have to tell them what they need to do, then they’ve just joined the team or not really paying attention what’s going on. A lot of guys have been there before, that’s great. But you still have to play the game, and I think that’s the thing – they don’t rely on past experiences. They just look forward to the next challenge.”
Of course, one challenge could certainly have Houston drawing on past experiences.
After more than two and half months on the sideline, former Dynamo star Dwayne De Rosario appears likely to play some role with United’s season on the line. What that role will be is still squarely up in the air, but center back Bobby Boswell said Houston will be prepared for the 2011 MLS MVP no matter when Olsen calls on his potential trump card.
“Dwayne is a big-game player,” Boswell said. “I think the bigger the game the more he likes it. We have to make sure we’re accountable for him. That’s kind of been my big word during the playoffs and almost the whole year. … If we’re accountable for all the guys on the field – we know where they are and do our job to shut them down – we’ll be fine.”