While Major League Soccer’s announcement Friday that the Houston Dynamo will compete in the Eastern Conference beginning this season has already made waves among MLS fans, the change isn’t affecting the Dynamo’s expectations.
A large part of the reasoning behind the tempered response is the idea of the league’s balanced schedule, which means each team will play each other twice in 2011, regardless of conference affiliation.
“It doesn’t really change anything to us,” defender Andrew Hainault said. "We’re going to be playing against each team two times, so I’m not losing sleep over it."
The biggest impact from the change in conference will involve qualifying for the playoffs. The Western Conference was widely considered the stronger conference in 2010, and indeed, six teams reached the postseason, including all four conference finalists.
[inline_node:327328]“You’re competing with Eastern Conference teams for a playoff spot more than the Western Conference teams, so it does change your mindset a little bit,” Hainault said. “Of late, the West has been stronger with more teams from the West making the playoffs, so you could say it’s good for us, but I’m not thinking about it that way.”
The New York Red Bulls posted the best regular-season record in the East last year and are poised to once again be one of the stronger teams in the conference. Still, it’s the Columbus Crew that caught Hainult’s eye after the club’s three consecutive postseason appearances.
“Columbus – they’ve been the dominant team the last three years,” Hainault said. “They’re always up there for the Supporters’ Shield and playoff spots, so that’s the team that stands out to me when I hear we’re moving to the East.”
Offered midfielder Geoff Cameron, “Before you had your Western Conference games, that you would focus on a little bit more. You obviously want the three points every single game, but you have more pressure on you to make sure you’re doing well in your conference. So now we switch to Eastern Conference teams, and our focus will be a little bit driven toward those games. But overall it’s pretty much the same thing.”
The Dynamo open up the 2011 campaign at home on March 19 against a new conference foe, the Philadelphia Union.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.