The 2012 Major League Soccer season has been insanely long – longer than most players of the league are use to. While this speaks volumes in the way of the progress of the American league, it is also testing teams and players in the post season.
If you need any kind of example of this, the first leg of the Eastern Conference final between Houston Dynamo and D.C. United today was a good one. Hearts may be willing enough in the post season, but some times bodies are not.
Within the first half hour of the match, there had been injury substitutions on both teams; most notably Chris Pontius for D.C. United. Pontius seemed to be favoring his right leg – a troubling sight indeed as he’s had a few troubles with a right groin injury in the past few games.
While the ending of the match was 3-1 in Houston’s favor, I think the real story here is the strain on the players’ bodies. D.C. United are the walking wounded, having not only lost players to injuries, but to red cards as well. It’s a lot to handle. And for a team like D.C. United, who has been the dark horse of this playoff season so far, it’s a hard pill to swallow. The fact your playoff hopes rest on who hasn’t been pushed to injury or out on cards? Not something one likes to face.
Tonight was only the first leg of this series. D.C. might get Dwayne De Rosario back next Sunday. They’ll definitely have Bill Hamid back (although I don’t think anyone can shun Joe Willis’ performance the past two games. Houston might have scored three, but Willis did his job well). The fact they will have home advantage will help too – not having to travel will give them rest and I have no doubt RFK will be rocking once more.
D.C. are young and hungry for the win – all they need is two goals to tie the series, three to win it. While holding Houston from scoring. Okay, so these are pretty big hurdles standing in their way, but they have went up against such a challenge before and been successful. Remaining cool and collected will be their greatest strategy on the second leg. If Ben Olsen can get through to his team to hold their heads on straight, they should have no problems. Houston were able to score three tonight because they profited from a young and exhausted team losing its cool. D.C. United turned their backs on the ball, slipped up a few times, missed good opportunities and it cost them. You can’t do that against Houston.
But the moments of brilliance tonight and against New York earlier have shown D.C. United have what it takes to take the eastern championship and go on to the MLS Cup.
And even if the injuries hold them back, even if there are some crappy calls they can’t get past, D.C. United have a lot to be proud of.