D.C. United played the final seven games of their regular-season and two playoff games without the services of reigning MVP Dwayne De Rosario. They played all of Thursday's victory against the New York Red Bulls without Andy Najar and the final 21 minutes of that game without goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
It doesn't seem to matter.
A year after their bid for the playoffs crumbled along with Chris Pontius' health, United has proven themselves far more resilient in 2012. That they head into the first leg of their first Eastern Conference final since 2006 without three of their best players hardly seems to matter at this point.
This year's United team seems perfectly capable of rolling up their sleeves and playing a less attractive brand of soccer if that's what the situations requires. They've moved to more of a 4-5-1 formation that employs two dedicated defensive midfielders. It doesn't make for pretty, attacking soccer all the time, but it has helped them go 6-0-3 in their past nine games. They've also given up just six goals in that time and allowed more than one in a game just once.
Combined with a Houston Dynamo team that is hardly known for their attacking acumen, this series will probably not end up being one for the highlight reels.
The Dynamo, who have yet to lose a competitive match at BBVA Compass Stadium, come into Sunday's game as the biggest surprise of this year's playoffs. After qualifying as the No. 5 team in the East, they scored a rare road victory over the Chicago Fire and continued to flumox Sporting Kanas City with a 2-1 aggregate goal victory. They've gone 13-0-7 in competitive matches at home, allowing just 13 goals in those games.
After moving to a 4-3-3 during the season, Dominic Kinnear has gone back to the 4-4-2 with a fair amount of success. Will Bruin and Calen Carr form a classic big/fast pairing and the midfield has mostly operated smoothly with Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia providing the creativity from the wide positions.
Whatever this matchup lacks in terms of sexy matchups, it makes up for with history. Despite United and the Dynamo having a combined six titles between them, they have never met in the playoffs. They also haven't won any since the Dynamo won their second straight in 2007.
This might not be pretty, but MLS longtimers will surely be able to appreciate it.