HOUSTON – The Houston Dynamo know D.C. United have no choice but to make some changes ahead of the first leg of the Eastern Conference finals (Sun. 4 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), but they're not going to switch up what's been working for them this postseason.
News broke Friday that Andy Najar was handed an additional two-game suspension for throwing a ball at a referee in the first leg of their semifinal series against the New York Red Bulls. Joining Najar on the bench will be starting goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who will be serving a red card suspension.
The changes will no doubt affect the game, but from the Dynamo’s perspective the suspension will not play into how they prepare for the match. In fact, Houston may even be a little more familiar with United's lineup on Sunday.
“It’s the same mentality. We’re worried about our group and I don’t think we really attack the game any different,” Brad Davis told MLSsoccer.com. “We actually played last game where Robbie Russell actually played right back where he might be playing tomorrow and Bill Hamid actually got ejected where [United backup goalkeeper Joe] Willis came in as well.”
Russell’s July 15 match was a tough one, with Mac Kandji getting the better of him on the left flank before he left the game with injury. But nearly four months later he looked like a different player.
As Najar’s fill in against the Red Bulls Thursday, Russell notched the series-deciding assist. With his successful pinch-hit performance, Houston know that while he does not bring Najar’s skill or pace, he will not be a easy mark come Sunday.
It was in the same July 15 match that the Dynamo got a look at Willis. The United second was inserted in the 19th minute when Hamid was shown the door for a last-man foul on Kandji. He went on to give up three goals, including two penalties, the rest of the way.
And while Houston got the better of him, Willis did show an ability to come out and command his area.
Despite all the previous looks at their opponent, the Dynamo are expecting a D.C. group that is playing at a high level considering the circumstances.
“The playoffs are different,” Kandji told MLSsoccer.com. “I would say it’s a different league because teams come out and the way they played during the season and the way they play in the playoffs are completely different. We’re going to expect them to come out here guns blazing.”
Making the most of home field
Looking back at history Houston has been dominant over DC throughout their history to the tune of a 7-0-1 record. On Sunday, the Dynamo are hoping to turn that dominance into a cushion in the two-legged series.
“We really want to try and get a good result against these guys,” Davis said. “If we can get up two and continue to push for some more goals and hopefully put on some more pressure for them going home.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.