HOUSTON – Eleven months ago, the Houston Dynamo took center stage at RFK Stadium and celebrated an Eastern Conference Championship and, by extension, ended D.C. United’s season. As the club ventures back to RFK on Sunday with their playoff lives on the line (1:30 pm ET, NBC), they know the team lining up across from them would like nothing more than to return the favor.
Houston need a win or draw against cellar-dwelling D.C., along with some help from the other Eastern Conference contenders, to extend their season. Anything less, and the playoffs go the way of the club’s CONCACAF Champions League campaign, which was cut short of the quarterfinals on Thursday night in Panama.
“If I was on their team, I’d relish the idea of spoiling it and having the opportunity to kick us off,” Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall said. “They’re fighting for their jobs and they want to see us out of the playoffs very bad. I know that has to be said in the locker room, for their locker room.”
Houston were in a similar position to D.C. just three years ago. Eight of Houston’s current players were on the Dynamo squad that failed to make the playoffs in 2010, the only time Houston have missed the postseason in franchise history.
Just like D.C. this year, Houston were coming off a conference championship appearance before taking a step back the next season. The Dynamo played spoiler against two playoff teams, the San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders, in the final two weeks of the season to lessen their playoff positioning.
“It was nothing-to-lose soccer,” center back Bobby Boswell said of that 2010 stretch run. “Lots of new guys getting a chance to show. We knocked [D.C.] out of the playoffs last year. What better redemption than to knock us out?”
While Houston are expecting D.C.’s best shot, they have a strong history of late against the capital club. In two games this year, the Dynamo have two wins and are 5-0-1 in the past two years against United, outscoring them 15-2 in those games.
On Sunday, all of that is out of the window, though.
Houston will have to find their rhythm in the attack – they have been shut out in their past three games – to move on. And they will do so against a team they know will be looking to do anything but make it easy on them.
“Just saying we beat them twice and saying we’re going and playing D.C. doesn’t mean we’re going to win this game,” said team captain Brad Davis. “They’ve got 11 guys out there trying to prove a point … sometimes that can be the most difficult team to play against.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.