Houston, TX – Two teams that defied the odds to reach the Eastern Conference finals will square off at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday as the Houston Dynamo get set to host D.C. United.
Houston squeaked into the postseason as the fifth seed in the East but surprised everyone by dispatching of the top seed, Sporting Kansas City.
D.C. looked prime for a potential deep run in the playoffs by finishing second in the East during the regular season, but Hurricane Sandy hitting the East Coast meant that the club was forced to forfeit its home field advantage for the second leg. Nevertheless, United emerged victorious over Red Bull New York thanks to Nick DeLeon's pivotal strike in the dying minutes of Thursday's second leg.
It would take a brave person to bet against the Dynamo at this stage in the season.
The club is looking to get back to MLS Cup for the second successive year, and Will Bruin may be the most crucial player to ensure that happens.
Not only does Bruin lead the MLS playoffs this season with three goals, but he has also fared extremely well against D.C. United. In five career games against the storied franchise, Bruin has produced six goals, including a hat trick at Robertson Stadium last season.
He bagged two goals in Houston's 3-2 loss at RFK Stadium earlier this season, but the striker was adamant that past success does not guarantee that he will have a favorable two-legged series against United.
"I have had better success against DC [than New York] but it's going to be a whole new series," Bruin told the club's official website. "What I've done in the past isn't necessarily going to show what I'm going to do this weekend. I'm just looking to get some goals in the first leg and hopefully we can get a little lead going into the second leg."
Bruin could fancy his chances against United, especially in the opening leg.
Not only will the Dynamo get off the mark on their home field, but Bruin will be going up against Joe Willis, United's second-string goalkeeper.
Willis is no slouch, though. He replaced Bill Hamid in United's defeat of New York after the first-choice stopper was sent off for bringing down Kenny Cooper in the box. Willis deputized and saved Cooper's second penalty attempt after the first was pulled back for encroachment.
"You don't have a lot of time to think, you've just got to get ready and get out there," Willis said.
D.C. United is a team on a mission. The four-time MLS Cup champions are making their first playoff appearance since 2007, and head coach Ben Olsen is out to end the season on the highest of high notes.
"This organization has been through some tough years and these fans have suffered," Olsen told MLSsoccer.com. "They were spoiled early and we went through a drought. This gives them hope. This gives them excitement."