Preview: D.C. United vs Houston Dynamo

MLS Cup Playoffs
D.C. United vs Houston Dynamo
Sunday, November 18 - 4:00 PM ET
TV: NBC Sports Network - Channel finder

D.C. United has found success all season long at RFK Stadium. The team has not lost at home since the season-opener – and that lone defeat required a goal in the final minute of play to topple the Black-and-Red. Since the 1-0 loss to KC on March 10, United has reeled off a 12-0-5 record at 2400 East Capitol St. and, in many cases, dominated the visitors.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that D.C. United still feels optimistic heading into Sunday’s match against the Houston Dynamo despite facing a 3-1 deficit in the two-game, total-goals series.

“We’re confident in the way we play at home,” said D.C. United Head Coach Ben Olsen after training on Friday. “All year, we have been aggressive and gone after teams and scored goals at home.”

Indeed, United’s 37 home goals during the regular season were second most in MLS and, often, the goals came in bunches. D.C, enjoyed four-goal outings on three occasions and put together five separate three-goal performances – all of which were wins. Though the task for Sunday is largely focused on scoring goals, the team must be careful an intense focus on the offensive end does not lead to a breakdown – and a goal conceded.

“Defense is just as important in this situation,” said goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who will return to the starting lineup after missing the first leg due to one-game red card suspension. “They’re a strong team moving forward in the counterattack, they’ve got some pace, they put in great service. So, on the defensive end we’ve got to stay tuned in and stay disciplined.”

The question on everyone’s mind heading into Sunday’s contest is the status of reigning League MVP Dwayne De Rosario. The Canadian hasn’t played a competitive match since early September after suffering a knee injury, but has been training at almost full strength for the last couple of weeks. The definition of a ‘game-changer,’ it appears DeRo will, at the very least, give Houston something to think about while planning.

“He’s healthy and ready to go. It does seem like a game you might want to use a guy like Dwayne De Rosario,” said Olsen with a wry smile. “Again, a lot of things happen in 90 minutes, so you can prepare certain ways, but you have to be ready to adapt. He still knocks on my [office] door every morning, tells me he is ready.”

The task is simple for the Black-and-Red. Win outright by three goals or win by two and attempt to win in overtime or, if necessary, penalty kicks. Doing so would mean D.C. United would host either the LA Galaxy or Seattle Sounders at MLS Cup at RFK Stadium on Sunday, December 1.

While confidence in the team’s ability may be high, the players know they have an uphill battle against a well-organized Dynamo side.

“Nothing about this is easy. This is going to be a tough task,” said Hamid “It can be done and we believe that it will be done. And we’re going into the game with that belief and that determination.”

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HOU 9 wins, 27 goals … DC 4 wins, 15 goals … Ties 2

2012 HEAD-TO-HEAD: HOU 2 wins, 7 GF … DC 1 win, 3 GF … 0 ties

4/28: DC 3, HOU 2 (Santos 11, 70; De Rosario 54 - Bruin 50, 59)

MLS CUP PLAYOFFS: HOU 1 win, 3 GF … DC 0 wins, 1 GF … 0 ties

REFEREE: Baldomero Toledo.
SAR (bench): Kermit Quisenberry; JAR (opposite): Corey Parker;
4th: Matthew Foerster

D.C. UNITED -- OUT: FW Josh Wolff (lower back disc herniation); QUESTIONABLE: MF Chris Pontius (R groin strain); MF Marcelo Saragosa (R knee pain); DF Brandon McDonald (R calf spasms); PROBABLE: DF Daniel Woolard (concussion-like symptoms); FW Long Tan (L ankle sprain); MF Dwayne De Rosario (L knee MCL sprain)
HOUSTON DYNAMO -- OUT: MF Adam Moffat (concussion/chest injury); QUESTIONABLE: MF Rico Clark (L adductor strain); FW Calen Carr (L hamstring strain); PROBABLE: DF Jermaine Taylor (L knee sprain)

SUSPENDED: DC: Andy Najar (through Nov. 18)