D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo, 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs: Dynamo have United right where they want them

Bob Levey

The Dynamo head on the road with a 3-1 lead over United with a spot in the MLS Cup finals on the line.

With all the talk about the huge hole the Seattle Sounders find themselves in against the LA Galaxy, one could be excused for overlooking the fact that the situation facing D.C. United is not a whole lot better. Being down 3-1 to the Houston Dynamo is, frankly, not much better.

In the entire history of two-legged series in the MLS Cup playoffs, only eight teams have ever entered the second leg trailing by at least two goals. Only two of them managed to come back, but the last time was in 2004 when the Kansas City Wizards turned around a 2-0 loss to beat the San Jose Earthquakes 3-2 on aggregate.

The only other example was when the Earthquakes dropped the first leg of their 2003 series against the Galaxy 2-0, subsequently gave up the first two goals in the return leg and still managed to win 5-4 on aggregate with an overtime goal.

As if United's job wasn't hard enough based on history alone, there's some pretty harsh realities looking them in the face as well. The biggest is the continued absence of Andy Najar and the still undetermined status of Chris Pontius.

Najar still has one game left on what turned out to be a three-game suspension after he threw a ball at the referee in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Pontius was forced to leave the first leg in the 12th minute with a groin strain and coach Ben Olsen said on Friday that his leading scorer is "definitely injured." That makes it highly unlikely that Olsen will try to start Pontius, considering the best-case scenario for United probably involves overtime.

There's also the not-so-insignificant matter of the opponent. The Dynamo defense has not been exactly impenetrable, but they have been plenty stout in recent months. They haven't lost a match all year by more than two goals and they've only allowed two goals once in their past nine competitive matches.

As he has shown in absolute technicolor this year, Dominic Kinnear also knows a thing or two about winning in tournaments. That doesn't make him unbeatable in any one game, but the Dynamo have lost just one of the six previous two-legged series they've played. Holding a similar lead against Sporting Kansas City in the previous round, the Dynamo were basically content to sit back and force their opponent to attack. Sporting KC fell a goal short. It might not have been pretty, but the Dynamo don't seem too worried about anything beyond advancing.

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