There are plenty of story lines surrounding tonight's match between the Dynamo and the Philadelphia Union. Jeff Gordon will be an honorary captain, this will be the final Dynamo match ever played at Robertson Stadium, but in the end though, the only thing that really matters is holding off a comeback from a Union team that is perfectly capable of turning this series around. Fortunately the Dynamo know this and they will be prepared to deal with the inevitable onslaught on goal from the Union.
The keys to holding on to an aggregate goal lead in a second leg are fairly simple. Weather the opening 15 minutes, which typically see the trailing side attempt to grab momentum as early as possible, and score the first goal yourself. It's of course more complicated than that, but broken down to the lower common elements, that's what you want to do.
With the Dynamo leading 2-1, the importance of the first goal is magnified. If Houston can take a 3-1 lead it will put further pressure of the Union to push forward and open up more space in the back for the Dynamo to attack. If the Union score first and make the match 2-2, all bets are off and it'll be up the Dynamo to shake off the goal and get right back in the fight.
The advantage Houston has, other than playing at home, is they know exactly what the Union need to do. They have to score, which means they can't sit back and try to absorb pressure. The Dynamo can be both mentally prepared for this and be on the lookout for ways to exploit the Union's pressure. Best case scenario, the Dynamo are able to control possession for a majority of the match and limit long stretches where they are pinned back in their own end, scrambling and defending for their lives.
It's guaranteed to be a nerve racking 90 minutes of soccer for fans of both teams.
- The Dynamo's 2-1 win on Sunday was the first road playoff win in club history and the team's first regulation playoff victory since the 2007 MLS Cup final; Houston went 0-1-1 in 2008, while its win in the 2009 playoff series against Seattle came in overtime.
- With the Game 1 victory, Houston extended its unbeaten streak to seven games (5-0-2) and is now 8-2-4 in the last 14 games, dating back to a 3-1 win over Seattle on July 30. The unbeaten streak is the club's longest since an 11-game regular-season unbeaten streak from April 19-June 20, 2009.
- Goalkeeper Tally Hall made 10 stops to key the Houston victory in Game 1, tying a club record Hall already held jointly with former Dynamo standout Pat Onstad. Hall is the sixth different goalkeeper to record at least 10 saves in an MLS playoff game, while it was only the third 10-save game since Joe Cannon tied the MLS record with 12 saves in a 2005 playoff game; the other two came from New England's Matt Reis.
- Defender Andre Hainault opened the scoring with a header just five minutes into the first leg. He has now scored five goals in his Dynamo career, all in October road games; he scored against Portland on October 14 and scored on October 2, 2010 against Philadelphia.
- Midfielder Brad Davis assisted on the goal, the fourth assist of his postseason career and his first since the 2007 MLS Cup final, when he assisted on the game-winning goal. In all competitions, Davis has a career-high 17 assists in 2011, adding an 18th in a September friendly against Monterrey.
- Houston defender Corey Ashe will become the 13th player in Dynamo history to make 100 starts for the club in all competitions if he is in Thursday's lineup. Ashe, who made his MLS debut in 2007 but moved to defense earlier this season, is likely to make his career-high 32nd start of the season.
- Since establishing eight regulars of 11 starters on September 17, the Dynamo have gone 5-0-1 while playing three home games and three away games, outscoring opponents 11-4. Prior to that stretch, Houston was 8-9-12 with a -2 goal differential in MLS play.
- Houston is 7-4-3 all-time in the MLS Cup Playoffs (counting the 2006 final as a tie). The Dynamo won championships in 2006 and 2007 and reached the Western Conference final in 2009. Houston has now been the No. 2 seed in its conference in four of five appearances, reaching the conference final in each of the three previous instances.
- Seven Dynamo players made their playoff debuts in Sunday's first leg, including starting goalkeeper Tally Hall; midfielders Luiz Camargo, Danny Cruz, and Adam Moffat; and substitutes Will Bruin, Carlo Costly, and Je-Vaughn Watson.
- The Dynamo have only scored first in four of their 14 all-time playoff games, including Sunday's first leg, and they have won all four. Houston is 3-4-2 when allowing the first goal, including come-from-behind wins in the 2006 Western Conference final, the 2007 Western Conference semifinal second leg, and the 2007 MLS Cup.
- Of Houston's 19 all-time playoff goals, a remarkable 14 have been scored after the 60th minute, including four overtime goals. Three of those were scored by forward Brian Ching, with a tying header in the 2006 MLS Cup final and game-winners in the second leg of Western Conference semifinals in 2007 and 2009.
- Ching ranks second among active players with seven playoff goals, trailing only Landon Donovan (17). Midfielder Brad Davis has appeared in all 14 Dynamo playoff games, starting 13, while forward Brian Ching has started 13 but missed the 2007 MLS Cup final due to injury.
- Three of the five starters return from Houston's defense in the 2009 playoffs, which saw the Dynamo record a shutout streak of 312 minutes (fourth-longest in MLS postseason history). Defenders Bobby Boswell, Geoff Cameron, and Andre Hainault are all playing the same positions, with Corey Ashe taking over the left back spot and Tally Hall stepping into goal.
- According to MLSsoccer.com writer Elijah Miller, the Dynamo are the youngest team to qualify for the 2011 playoffs, with an average age of 26.51 in the regular season, slightly younger than Eastern Conference opponents Kansas City (26.80), Columbus (26.92), and Philadelphia (26.97). That statistic is calculated by multiplying a player's age by minutes played and dividing by a team's total minutes played. Houston's regular lineup includes Danny Cruz (21); Luiz Camargo (24); Corey Ashe, Andre Hainault, and Adam Moffat (25); and Geoff Cameron and Tally Hall (26).
Previous Dynamo home playoff games (5-1 record):
October 29, 2006: Houston 2-0 Chivas USA [3-2 aggregate]
November 5, 2006: Houston 3-1 Colorado
November 2, 2007: Houston 4-1 aet FC Dallas [4-2 aggregate]
November 10, 2007: Houston 2-0 Kansas City
November 9, 2008: Houston 0-3 New York [1-4 aggregate]
November 8, 2009: Houston 1-0 aet Seattle [1-0 aggregate]
- Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear earned his 100th career MLS regular season win in the Oct. 23 regular-season finale. Kinnear became the fifth coach in league history to reach that milestone, joining Seattle coach Sigi Schmid (157), LA coach Bruce Arena (128), Bob Bradley (124), and Steve Nicol (112). Kinnear has quality to go with his quantity: His .567 career winning percentage ranks fourth in league history.
- Since a 3-0 loss at Chivas USA on July 23, the Dynamo have been one of the top teams in MLS, posting an 8-2-4 record in their last 14 games while clinching a playoff spot. That stretch includes a 7-1 record against Western Conference teams; Houston is 9-5-4 on the season against its former conference. Brazilian midfielder Luiz Camargo has started the last seven MLS games for the Dynamo, and the team has posted a 5-0-2 record in those contests. The insertion of Camargo has allowed Geoff Cameron to shift to center back and has, for the last five games, pushed Andre Hainault to right back. The Dynamo have allowed just four goals from open play in seven games with Camargo in midfield.
- Midfielder Brad Davis, a league MVP candidate, finished the season with 16 assists, the most in MLS and a career high, and added another in Sunday's first leg. Davis also led the league in chances created, both overall and from the run of play, according to MLS stats partner Opta. In all competitions, Davis has recorded at least 11 assists for the Dynamo in five of his six seasons, falling short of that total only in 2007, when he missed 13 MLS games due to injury.
- Midfielder Danny Cruz has missed time due to injury in his third professional season, but the Dynamo are 7-2-5 when the 21-year-old sparkplug starts a match.
- All-Star Geoff Cameron has made eight starts on defense in 2011, including the final six regular-season games and Sunday's first leg. When Cameron starts on defense, Houston's goals against average has been exactly 1.00, while it rises to 1.26 in all other MLS games.
- Although Houston's wins in its last three road games were its first road wins of the year, the Dynamo were among the hardest teams to beat all year when playing away from Robertson Stadium. Houston ranked second in the league in road ties with nine, trailing only New York (10), and tied for the fourth fewest road losses of any team with six, trailing Seattle (3), New York (5), and LA (5).
- Houston has scored in the final 11 minutes to win or tie a game on 10 separate occasions this season, including six times in a nine-game span from August 6-September 24.
- With a 10-3-4 home record, the Dynamo finished tied for second in MLS in home points per game (2.0) and tied the club record for home regular season wins, set in 2008 with a 10-1-4 record. The Dynamo are 6-0-2 in their last eight home games, dating back to a 2-0 loss to Columbus on June 18. Houston has scored first in 15 out of 35 MLS games on the season; the Dynamo are 10-1-4 when notching the first goal and 3-8-7 when the opponent scores first; there have been two 0-0 ties. Houston's 10 results when allowing the first goal tied Seattle for the most in MLS; the Dynamo's winning percentage when allowing the first goal (.361) ranked third.