HOUSTON – Playoff series openers have been kind to Houston in 2012. Whether against the Chicago Fire, Sporting KC or D.C. United, the Dynamo have found a way to come out on top.
Sometimes it’s been by pushing players forward, other times by switching formations to create favorable matchups or putting more players behind the ball to preserve a lead. No matter what the game plan, the Dominic Kinnear and the Dynamo have come up with the right in-game solutions to walk away with the necessary result in all four of their postseason games.
With a return trip to the MLS Cup on the line, Houston are looking for a similar formula in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship on Sunday (4 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
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“We don’t know how they’re going to play until the game starts,” Brad Davis said after training Friday. “Our mentality to every game, and I don’t think that changes from game to game, is to go there and start off trying to win the game. Then you play the game as it comes to you.”
If possible, the Dynamo want to avoid getting into the same situation they found themselves in a week-and-a-half ago in Kansas City. Sporting forced Houston to defend for more than 70 percent of the second leg and were one touch, one accurate finish away from sending the series to extra time.
So how can Houston dictate the pace and flow of the game against a D.C. squad playing for their season? Simple: Stay composed and force United to defend.
“I just think matching the tempo and giving it everything we’ve got if they do come out firing,” said Adam Moffat. “That and keeping the ball better and getting guys in behind and just trying to turn them around a little bit. We know we’re capable and they’ll be pushing guys forward, so there will be space to exploit.”
Moffat and Clark return
Houston got some relief in the injury department with Moffat and Ricardo Clark rejoining training Friday. On Thursday, Moffat received clearance to return from the concussion he suffered in a collision with Robbie Russell during the first leg and reported no ill effects from the two-hour session. For Clark, the session was about testing his physical limits.
“It sucks just being in the physio room, so I’d rather be out here playing,” Clark told MLSsoccer.com. “I wanted to test it out a little bit and see how it would react and so far it was pretty good.”
A return to action for the pair on Sunday would be good news for the Dynamo as they have provided solid cover – and occasional attacking punch – for Houston’s defense since being paired together.
“Obviously, it’s going to raise your confidence because you know what kind of players those guys are,” Davis said. “Those guys are two good, hard players and every time they step on the field they give everything they’ve got. When they’re not available we definitely miss them.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.