They call the playoffs the second season. In some cases, I think I agree: the disciplinary record is wiped clean, previous records are only useful when determining seeding, and once you get there, any club has a shot to win the MLS Cup. That being said, there are also good reasons to disagree with that description: form and momentum carry over from the regular season, especially when the playoffs start just days after the regular season ends.
Whichever point of view you choose to subscribe to, you have to agree that when it comes to the playoffs, there's often something different about the Houston Dynamo. No matter how mediocre they may be during the regular season, once the playoffs start, Dominic Kinnear seems to be very good at motivating his players to go above and beyond most peoples' expectations of them.
They'll get another chance to do this Thursday evening, when they host the fifth-seeded Montreal Impact in the knockout round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. In an eerie coincidence (perhaps appropriate, given the day we're talking about), this will be the second year in a row the Dynamo have started their postseason run on Halloween - we're hoping that this run goes just as deep, but with a better ending.
The two clubs met three times in the regular season, and each time, the home side came out victorious. You would think that bodes well for the men in orange, but Dynamo fans should know better than to take any side for granted. Montreal may have out-limped the Dynamo into the playoffs, but they still have the weapons to make a run. Some of their big names will be out (Alessandro Nesta), but Patrice Bernier will be back to join Marco Di Vaio, Justin Mapp, Davy Arnaud, and the rest of a very talented roster.
Still, I think that recent form will play a bigger role in this than some might think. In two meetings in Montreal over the summer, the Impact outscored the Dynamo 7-0. That was earlier, though - the Impact ended the season in a free fall that forced them to wait until the final matches to learn their fate. Since the beginning of September, they've won just three of their eleven matches across all competitions. Whether it's the overall age of their roster or something else, they've slowed down from their pace earlier in the season, and because of it, they have to go on the road in the knockout round.
The Dynamo didn't exactly end the season on all cylinders, either, needing help (in the form of Montreal's final loss) to even reach the playoffs. Thursday will be their fourth match in twelve days, and there comes a time when the schedule starts to wear on a club. That being said, however, the Dynamo should go in to the match with a nearly healthy roster - for them, it's just a matter of whether or not it will all click.
The regular season is a marathon, with endurance meaning almost as much as a fast start. Once you get to the playoffs, however, it all comes down to single moments. When one match decides your fate, the tiniest of mistakes can suddenly be thrust into the limelight. Perhaps in this case, the Dynamo have the advantage, as they've been in this kind of setting before (this is Montreal's first playoff appearance, as they only entered the league in 2012). Still, with that experience comes the knowledge that it only takes one moment - one player getting hot, or one player suddenly going cold. If the Dynamo wish to advance, someone will have to step up, be it Brad Davis, Boniek Garcia, Will Bruin, or somebody else.
Someone is going to go home Thursday night. That much is a given. But on their home pitch, the Dynamo will have a good chance to make sure that's not them. It may take ninety minutes, or it may go even longer, but there will be a winner Thursday night. It all depends on who seizes the moment - so here's hoping that whoever does is in orange.