Honduras will attempt to reach their third consecutive World Cup tournament, Russia 2018, with a must-win intercontinental playoff against Australia. The home leg in San Pedro Sula comes on Friday, with the return leg in Sydney on November 15.
The stakes are as big as they come, and the travel is about as far-flung as can be for Los Catrachos. And win or lose the playoff, there are sure to be reverberations for the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, too.
We saw in the Dynamo's previous series against the Portland Timbers a battle of attrition of sorts. Both teams were dealing with injuries by the second leg, but Portland's sheer volume of injuries put them at a real disadvantage in playing a coherent game, and it cost them.
Hopefully the Hondurans participating in the World Cup playoff won't get hurt while on international duty, but when a season comes down to two games, the margins can get mighty thin.
Consider the scale of the travel, in the space of about a week, of the World Cup playoff for Honduras and Australia. Following Honduras' home leg, the team will reportedly take a charter flight to Los Angeles to begin the trip to Australia. But they will fly commercial from LA to Sydney, with one recent report claiming Honduras head coach Jorge Luis Pinto will dole out available business class slots to a select number of players, with the rest having to take the 15-hour flight in coach.
No 15-hour direct flight is necessarily ideal, but these may not be the best conditions for players to recover and rest for the second leg, as well as the long trip back to North America. And it could play a role in the Western Conference Championship first leg, in Houston on November 21, if the Dynamo's Honduran contingent feel any kind of World Cup playoff hangover, physical or emotional.
That emotional aspect is worth pointing out, too. Honduras do have experience at the highest level this century, but any time your country has a spot in the World Cup determined by a two-game playoff, the mental and emotional wear of those games can reverberate much longer, to say nothing of the response to the outcome.
So will Honduras' World Cup playoff against Australia have any effect on the Dynamo vs. the Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference Championship? Time will tell, but don't be surprised if the travel burden and emotional toll proves to be a challenge for a few key Dynamo players.