By: Kyle McCarthy
Two teams will book their places at MLS Cup by the end of Sunday. Houston and Los Angeles hold the advantage heading into the pair of second-leg affairs, but D.C. United and Seattle will hope to overturn their current deficits on home soil. Here are five points to watch ahead of the decisive affairs:
1. Health concerns create questions: A stretch of four or five games in the span of three weeks takes its toll. D.C. United is in the worst shape at the moment (Chris Pontius’ groin injury is a bitter blow, while Brandon McDonald and Marcelo Saragosa must also recuperate quickly), but there are also concerns in Houston (Calen Carr, Ricardo Clark, Adam Moffat and Jermaine Taylor), Los Angeles (Edson Buddle, A.J. DeLaGarza and Juninho) and Seattle (Leo Gonzalez and Mauro Rosales). A season-ending encounter isn’t the ideal time to test depth, but the circumstances afford few other choices at this juncture.
2. Will Houston set out its stall properly?: The right words - yes, we know we need to push out more than we did in the 1-0 defeat at Sporting Kansas City to protect our two-goal advantage on aggregate - emanated from the Dynamo camp this week. Actions, however, represent another matter entirely. Houston must resist the urge to sit back and soak up pressure from the start. This isn’t the type of day to allow United a foothold in the game and allow the frenzied RFK Stadium crowd to urge them on toward a famous victory.
3. Dwayne De Rosario looms: He hasn’t played since September. He will only play limited minutes, United assistant coach Chad Ashton told the Washington Post earlier this week. And yet, the prospect of a De Rosario return should frighten the opposition. Houston knows all too well what DeRo can do in these sorts of situations. The best course of action from a Dynamo perspective: salt the game away early to render his introduction irrelevant.
4. Producing the necessary quality: Seattle must find some way to score early to maintain its faith in completing the task at hand. Otherwise, the belief in this side - particularly if Rosales isn’t fit enough to feature - might start to waver with the Galaxy on the other side and a three-goal deficit to erase.
5. Overcoming the wobbles: CenturyLink Field hasn’t treated the Galaxy kindly this year. Los Angeles hasn’t conceded fewer than two goals and hasn’t scored during two previous visits to Seattle this season. This Galaxy group is far different than the side that lost 2-0 on May 2, but the in-form players will likely remember the 4-0 defeat on Aug. 5 as they take the field. Similar problems this time around would place the outcome of this tie in some doubt.