- Kickoff on Thursday is 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN
- This is the Eastern Conference’s 4th-place finisher (Houston) hosting 5th-place in a single-elimination contest
- Houston’s Dominic Kinnear, something of an MLS playoff king, is 13-7-3 in the post-season with Houston
- Montreal finished the season on a 1-6-1 skid
- (MORE on MLS playoffs: Houston’s Brad Davis; number down, but not a bad year)
- (MORE on MLS playoffs: Are there too many teams in the post-season?)
- (MORE on MLS playoffs: ProSoccerTalk’s post-season picks and predictions)
- (MORE on MLS playoffs: Schedule and TV times)
- (MORE on MLS playoffs: Top story lines for the post-season)
Neither team enters Thursday’s playoff elimination match riding particularly tall in the saddle – although Houston has quite a few more reasons than Montreal to like its chances when the teams open Major League’s Soccer’s Eastern Conference playoffs at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Start with Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear, who, plain and simple, has the MLS playoff thing figured out. That doesn’t mean Houston will definitely win when the teams kick off at 8:30 p.m. (NBCSN). But it does mean that every man in Dynamo colors will stride confidently into that very orange, two-year old ground field backed by sufficient stores of “been there, done that” from the coach’s office. And that looks like a swell place to start.
Kinnear’s 13-7-3 record with Houston in the playoffs looks even better if you take away the two MLS Cup finals (the last two), both played inside the LA Galaxy’s ground. He has guided the Dynamo to four of the last seven MLS Cup championship contests overall – and you can mark that under “flat out, getting it done.”
There is also the fact that Houston is at home. BBVA wasn’t quite the fortress it was last year, when the Dynamo went an entire season of home matches without a loss. In fact, the team’s 31 points at home this year ranks just 8th among the 10 playoff clubs.
Still, home field means a lot here. Montreal was just 4-9-4 on the road this year, compared to the Dynamo’s 9-4-4 mark at home.
Finally, we can circle the teams’ recent form as a reason to think Marco Schallibaum’s club has its work cut out Thursday in South Texas. The Impact has been on the skids since beating New England back in early September, just 1-6-1 since then. The club’s only victory came at home over Philadelphia, which didn’t make the playoffs. In fact, that was also the only game in Montreal’s last five where they actually found goal. Yes, Schallibaum’s club was blanked in four of its last five matches.
Last week, needing a win to officially clinch a playoff spot (or even a draw to improve positioning), Les Bleus found themselves on the wrong end of a 1-0 result at Toronto.
Houston’s form has been something of a mixed bag, a 4-3-3 record over the last two months. But Kinnear’s men did win last week in what was essentially playoff contest, downing bedraggled D.C. United at RFK when only a win would put the Orange into the post-season. The “must-win” scenario seems to bring out the club’s best.
“Everybody knows we’ve been in the situation many times and we can only use that to our benefit,” midfielder Ricardo Clark told HoustonDynamo.com. “I think it’s always an advantage to play at home, you don’t have to deal with the travel and things like that, it’s a little more comfortable so we’re hoping that’ll help us out. Everybody knows what time it is, it’s a different vibe going into the playoffs.”
But if we’re tallying up edges, Montreal does have a couple leaning its direction. First, the Impact can call upon some success this year versus Houston, especially a relatively recent 5-0 thumping at Stade Saputo north of the U.S. border. That was Kinnear’s worst loss ever.
Montreal also won, 2-0, over Houston in Montreal this year. And they were quite competitive recently in a 1-0 loss at BBVA Compass.
Plus, home field has been far less than an automatic “W” in this one-game knockout bit. Since MLS introduced the format for 2011 – where the playoffs begin with the fourth-place team hosting the conference’s fifth-place finisher in a one-game knockout match – the home teams are just 2-2. In fact, Houston is responsible for one of the visitor wins, launching last year’s playoff drive with a win at Chicago.
And we certainly can’t fail to mention the Marco Di Vaio factor. While Houston’s forwards have struggled to finish chances this year (or to create them) Di Vaio just had a sensational, 20-goal campaign. In fact, the veteran Italian forward, one of the league’s purest, most clinical finishers was third in final MLS goal scoring.
Both teams will miss an important defender: Jermaine Taylor is missing for Houston and Alessandro Nesta is out for Montreal.