D.C. United’s 2-1 aggregate win over the New York Red Bulls had enough drama in its two matches to last an entire playoff run.
Games relocated because of a hurricane. A contest postponed because of a snowstorm. An own goal for each side. A pair of saved penalty kicks. A red card in the first match, then two ejections in the second. And last but not least, a dramatic last-gasp winner.
But all of that is in the past. Now, United have turned their focus to the Houston Dynamo, the club they visit Sunday (4 p.m., NBCSN) for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final.
It sure has been a wild couple of weeks for second-seeded United. With a full six days off before the second leg next Sunday at RFK Stadium, D.C. finally will have a chance to come up for air after today’s match.
The defending conference champion, fifth-seeded Houston first went on the road and defeated the Chicago Fire in the knockout round before upsetting No. 1 Kansas City by a 2-1 aggregate in the clubs’ conference semifinal series.
Today will be the final game of the season at Houston’s new BBVA Compass Stadium, where the Dynamo still have not lost a match. The venue opened in May with Houston registering a 1-0 win over United. The Dynamo also defeated D.C. 4-0 there in July, while United picked up a 3-2 victory over Houston at RFK Stadium in April.
Here is the lineup I expect Houston coach Dominic Kinnear to use:
Hall; Sarkodie, Boswell, Hainault, Ashe; Garcia, Clark, Moffat, Davis; Kandji, Bruin
Straying from the 4-3-3 he experimented with for much of the season, Kinnear has gone back to an old-school 4-4-2 for the postseason, winning thanks to stout defense and opportunistic attacking.
The flanks are where Houston is most dangerous, with Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia supported by the overlapping runs of fullbacks Corey Ashe and Kofi Sarkodie. And of course, you can’t ignore Davis’ set-piece proficiency.
Here is the roster I expect United coach Ben Olsen to deploy:
Starting 11: Willis; Russell, McDonald, Jakovic, Korb; DeLeon, Kitchen, Saragosa, Pontius; Boskovic; Pajoy
Substitutes: Dykstra, Dudar, Woolard, Neal, Augusto, Salihi, Santos
Joe Willis gets the nod in goal with Bill Hamid suspended. No longer listed on the injury report, Chris Korb (hamstring) seems poised to return at left back. After not dressing against New York, I doubt Dwayne De Rosario (listed as probable in his return from a sprained MCL) will be available, but he seems like a decent bet for the return leg.
— United right back Andy Najar will not play in this series after being handed an additional two-game suspension for throwing the ball at the referee in the first leg against New York.
— Houston’s Clark (adductor strain) and Calen Carr (hamstring strain) both are listed as questionable. Defender Jermaine Taylor (knee sprain) is probable.
— The referee will be Ricardo Salazar. Houston will be in orange with white shorts, United in all-black.