The Houston Dynamo have been to MLS Cup the last two years, but those teams were more talented than this year's edition. They showed signs of excellence. They were, in the minds of at least some, contenders.
This Dynamo team is not.
If Houston didn't have Dominic Kinnear or history on their side, nobody would be giving them a chance to make it three straight MLS Cups.
Luckily for Houston, they are playing a team that has looked as inept as they have in the play-ing round. The Montreal Impact have been terrible down the stretch, ruining the good vibes from early in the season. While the excitement of their first playoff trip is still there, it looks likely to be a short postseason stay.
1. Does Dominic Kinnear have any magic left? Houston has made a habit of coasting through the regular season and turning things on in the playoffs to make MLS Cups. They've represented the East in MLS Cup the last two years utilizing such a strategy and in 2012, it required the play-in game, just like it will this year. Normally for Kinnear's teams, the form you see from them in the last month of the season is nothing like their postseason form. Will that be true again?
2. Can Montreal find their early season form? As spring turned to summer, the Impact looked like the class of the East. Patrice Bernier was one of MLS's best players, while Marco Di Vaio was knocking in goals left and right and their defense was unbeatable. But things went downhill from there, with Bernier carrying too much of a load, Di Vaio getting no help and their once sensational defense looking rather pedestrian. If they are going to beat Houston, Montreal needs to get some help from their supporting cast.
3. Will the Impact defense hold up without Alessandro Nesta? The Impact defense will be challenged by Will Bruin and Giles Barnes and they will have to hold them off without Alessandro Nesta. The Italian great will miss the match through injury and while his foot speed is lacking at 37 years old, nether Bruin nor Barnes are especially fleet footed. They are smart and opportunistic, though, things Nesta normally does well to cut out of opposing forward's games.
4. Is it Andrew Wenger's time to shine? When the Impact and Dynamo played earlier this month, Houston looked the better side until Wenger came off the bench. From that point on, Montreal took it to Houston as the 22-year-old shined and only poor luck kept the Impact from snatching a point. If this match plays out like that match did, and the Impact get a bit more fortune, Wenger could turn this match for Montreal.
5. Can Montreal match Houston's physicality? This year's Dynamo team isn't quite as physical as those of years' past, but it's still going to test the Impact's ability to compete in the postseason. Referees tend to let more go in the playoffs and Houston will be more than happy to take advantage of it. Let's find out if Montreal can handle it.
Match date/time: Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Venue: BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, TX
TV: NBC Sports Network
Streaming: MLS Live