After ending the preseason on a high note with the dispatching of Eastern Conference rival Philadelphia Union 2-0, D.C. United look to keep the momentum going as the team travels to BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston to take on the Dynamo in the opening match of the 2013 season today, March 2 at 8 p.m. EST (Watch on TV: NBC Sports Network - Follow on Twitter: @DCUMatchday).
D.C. United and the Houston Dynamo last met in the 2012 MLS Cup Semi-Final, seeing Houston move on to the MLS Cup Final and leaving United on the outside looking in. The Black-and-Red took an early lead against the Dynamo in Houston after a first-half Nick DeLeon goal in the first leg match on Nov. 11. However, Houston would later score three unanswered goals in the second half, to lead the series 3-1. The second leg saw United back at RFK Stadium on Nov. 18, where the teams played to a 1-1 draw and Houston advanced on aggregate goal difference (4-2). But, to be fair, United was without key players Dwayne De Rosario – who had been missing in the team since Sept. 11 after injuring himself while representing the Canadian Men's National Team in World Cup Qualifying in Panama – playmaker Chris Pontius, who was subbed out in the 12th minute of the first leg playoff match against Houston with a groin issue, and central defender Brandon McDonald was subbed out in the 56th minute of the same game dealing with an injury as well.
When asked about the playoff game against Houston, United defender Brandon McDonald said, “You know, last year you saw us going from New York and the snow to the heat in Houston. That’s what played a big part to my injury, my body adjusting to the climate … thank god we’re catching them this time of year.”
The Houston Dynamo has been the proverbial “thorn in the side” of D.C. United in recent past. The two teams met five times in 2012 and the Black-and-Red was only able to grab one win, going 1-3-1 against the Dynamo. Houston also has the upper hand in All-Time matchups (10-4-4) against United since coming into the League in 2006. In fact, United has never came away from Houston with a win against the Dynamo in its history. And since the Dynamo's stadium opener – against D.C. United – on May 12, 2012, BBVA Compass Stadium has not seen a home defeat, as Houston boasts an unbeaten 14-0-7 home record that's carrying over from last season.
Black-and-Red midfielder Nick DeLeon knows just how tough it is to play at Houston. “They’re well organized. They’re a team of savvy vets [and] they play really good at home," DeLeon said. "I mean… that’s Houston!”
Both teams have had a busy offseason in preparation for the season opener. D.C. United was in Florida for the month of February, playing friendlies and participating in the Walt Disney World Resort Pro Soccer Classic, and managed a 2-2-3 pre-season record (1-2-2 against MLS competition). Houston finished its pre-season going 4-4-1 (2-3-0 against MLS competition), playing in the Desert Friendlies in Tucon, Ariz. and the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, S.C.
United and Houston will be looking to get back to the MLS playoffs in 2013 after successful runs last year. The Black-and-Red will have a bit of a new look this year with some new additions to the team; most recently the loan acquisition of Panamanian midfielder Marcos Sánchez from Tauro FC (Panama) and the signing of Kyle Porter from Vancouver Whitecaps FC after a successful pre-season trial with United. Houston, however, have remained quiet during the offseason, but its most notable signing for 2013 was Omar Cummings from the Colorado Rapids – whose status is still uncertain for the season opener due to injury concerns - and Houston have still retained the services of standouts Will Bruin, Brad Evans, and Brian Ching, who just signed a new deal to serve as a player/assistant coach for the Dynamo this year.
United made it one stop shy of the MLS Cup game last season and it's no secret that the Black-and-Red has gotten progressively better over the last couple of years. As the new season approaches, the Black-and-Red will look to have a strong showing by starting with a win today, but the players know it won't be easy.
United midfielder/forward Chris Pontius says he knows teams will be gunning for the Black-and-Red more than ever this year. “We’re not flying under the radar anymore. We’re going to get everyone’s best game. We [have] got to step up to the level of the [competition] and this is the year where we can really have success,” said Pontius.
D.C. United Head Coach Ben Olsen realizes this too and understands the challenge of opening the season playing the Dynamo in Houston.
“We left last season going to Houston and we’re excited to get back there,” said Head Coach Ben Olsen. “They’re going to be excited. It’s their home opener, it’s our opener, but were pumped to get the season going!”
Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. EST and will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network. Listen on Romantica 900 AM.