After managing to come out of an Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series against New York that featured a home playoff date swap due to Hurricane Sandy, a cancelled match, three red cards, two missed penalty kicks and two own goals, D.C. United now turns its attention to Houston.
Following its 2-1 aggregate goals victory, which culminated at Red Bull Arena on Thursday, the Black-and-Red head southwest to take on the Houston Dynamo on the road in Leg 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday (4 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network). On November 18, the two sides will reconvene at RFK Stadium (4 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network) in a match that will help determine which club moves on to MLS Cup. If United advances, then the championship game will be held on home turf on December 1.
Here’s what United will need to accomplish in order to extend its current nine-game unbeaten run to 10 in Texas:
ADJUST QUICKLY TO A DRASTICALLY DIFFERENT CLIMATE
In just three days time, United must adapt to a significantly warmer playing temperature, as well as a tough venue from which to steal a result.
Within a week and a half time frame, the Black-and-Red dealt with a horrific hurricane and a brutal nor’easter, most recently playing a match in New Jersey that dipped to a low of 33 degrees. By kickoff in Houston on Sunday, the forecast is projected at 76 degrees with 75% humidity and thunderstorms just a couple of hours beforehand.
On top of contending with the southern sun, United has the tough task of attempting to do what others before have failed to accomplish in 2012 – nab three points at BBVA Compass Stadium. In 18 visitor attempts (including the post-season), there have been 12 losses, six draws and zero victories.
A huge factor in traveling teams’ woes is the narrow nature of the BBVA pitch, a characteristic that lends itself well to the Dynamo’s style. If the Black-and-Red can adjust to the playing conditions accordingly, then success is sure to ensue.
CONTAIN WILL BRUIN
If D.C. United is boasting a stingy defense as of late, then Houston forward Will Bruin is a scoring fiend possessed by the post-season. His three goals in the Dynamo’s march to the 2012 MLS Cup leads all players, and his scorching-hot form shows no signs of cooling down.
What’s more, Houston knows how to put the pedal to the metal in the waning moments of games. During the regular season, the Dynamo scored 17 goals in the last 15 minutes of play, a mark that only trailed Supporters’ Shield winners San Jose Earthquakes.
Luckily for the men in black and red, their backline discipline may very well be the kryptonite to Bruin’s post-season prowess. United has conceded one goal or fewer in nine of its last 10 matches, and the one game that featured two goals against was a D.C. victory. Perhaps more compellingly, United has only given up three goals in its last six away matches, an average of 0.50 goals against in that stretch.
If the Black-and-Red can build upon recent results, then a win at BBVA Compass Stadium should be on the horizon.
SCORE EARLY (AND OFTEN)
For a team that is so strong at home, Houston is surprisingly vulnerable when conceding the first goal.
In matches where a regular-season opponent opened the scoring account, the Dynamo was a paltry 1-9-2, a winning percentage (.167) that matched League-worst Toronto FC. Encouragingly, United was a perfect 7-0-0 in the regular season when leading at the half, meaning that an unanswered strike within the initial 45 minutes of the game will likely yield three points.
On top of that, the Black-and-Red reigns supreme when the team registers a multi-goal game. In 15 instances during which United has scored two goals or greater, the side is 12-2-1.