The international break is almost over, and that means one thing: it's time for the MLS playoffs to resume. Saturday evening at 6:30 Central time, the Houston Dynamo will face off with Sporting Kansas City at Sporting Park in the second leg of the Eastern Conference finals.
In the first leg, played here in Houston on the 9th, the two clubs played out a scoreless draw in what can only be charitably termed a slugfest. Both clubs were on the tail end of long stretches with numerous matches (for the Dynamo, it was seven matches in 21 days), and the sluggish, mostly uninspired play was a result of this. Though it might not have been a break for everybody concerned (Boniek Garcia and Jason Johnson represented the Dynamo in international friendlies for Honduras and Jamaica), the two weeks between the two legs was much needed.
And they might not have wanted to admit it before the match, but I get the feeling that the Dynamo were relatively pleased with getting out of the first leg with just a scoreless draw. They were undeniably the more tired team, with injuries limiting the playing time of both Ricardo Clark and Will Bruin. This is another place where the two week layoff might come in handy - while neither player has been confirmed to play this Saturday, the week layoff that they had last year would have meant that both would definitely have been left out - and there are few people who would relish the prospect of facing the season's most crucial fixture without either player.
Regardless of whether or not Bruin or Rico play, the task for the Dynamo is clear: they need a win to advance. Because of the scoreless draw at home (and MLS's lack of the away goals rule), there's no need for fancy arithmetic to tell us what's needed. Just as it was in the last tie, the Dynamo go on the road needing a win to advance. In New York, they proved that they could handle the pressure then; the pressure in Kansas City this weekend will be every bit as present.
This is a matchup of clubs that has a long history, both in the regular and the postseason. There's no love lost here, at least on the pitch - and the first leg showed it. The script has been the same in recent years, and the Dynamo have been able to escape Sporting Park with postseason wins before. Whether or not they'll do so again depends on many things. Will Rico and Will play? Will Boniek Garcia's extra workload over the international break come back to haunt him? Can Omar Cummings further cement his surprising place in Houston's postseason pantheon with another goal? Can Tally Hall be as impressive as he was for most of the 120 minutes in Red Bull Arena?
These and other questions don't have answers yet. We may find some of them out before the match starts, but more than likely, we won't know until the end of Saturday's match. I do know one thing, though. Many people had written the Dynamo off several times this year, and yet, they're here standing where fifteen other clubs have already started their offseason. They've shown fight and character in rising to the occasion and proving the naysayers wrong. They're used to the fight, and they're used to being the so-called underdog. I have no doubt that come Saturday, they'll do everything in their power to ensure that once again, they're playing for the MLS Cup come early December. And knowing that means that I'm not quite as worried about Saturday, because I know that the guys I support will be out there doing their best. And when they do their best, good things can happen.
Let's see if they can't extend the season two more weeks, shall we?