MLS playoffs: Notes on Houston ahead of Saturday’s second leg conference final against Sporting KC

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Ahead of Saturday’s second leg of this Eastern Conference finals series, here are the must-knows about Dominic Kinnear’s Houston Dynamo. A trip to MLS Cup 2013 is on the line. (Saturday’s match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, and can also been seen on NBC Sports Live Extra)

  • Much-needed rest for the weary

Perhaps no MLS team has needed a break the way Houston did toward the end of its ridiculous, packed schedule through late October and early November. When Houston walked off the field on Nov. 9, following a listless, scoreless draw fashioned by two weary teams, the Dynamo was coming off its 7th match in 21 days. That schedule in a word: brutal.

Dominic Kinnear gave his team three full days off before getting back to work. Only one man had a little bit more soccer to deal with, albeit an important one: Right-sided attacker Boniek Garcia, a Honduran international and the club’s most dynamic presence in the final third, was called by his homeland for a pair of international friendlies.

Garcia did, at least, play just 75 total minutes in Honduras’ friendlies against Brazil and Ecuador. Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear, in fact, thanked Honduras manager  Luis Fernando Suárez for the “assist” in not asked Garcia for more in those two matches.

(MORE: PST playoff preview — Houston at Kansas City)

  • Houston on the road to stay

Among the foursome of MLS finalists, only Houston knows for certain that whatever happens Saturday in (potentially frigid) Kansas City, only Houston does not have a chance of hosting the MLS Cup final.

If Sporting Kansas City advances, the club will host Major League Soccer’s 18th championship contest at Sporting Park. If Houston moves forward, it would travel to face the Western Conference winner, either Real Salt Lake or Portland.

  • Watching for Ricardo Clark

Injuries to Ricardo Clark and Will Bruin make both players questionable.

While Bruin was the team’s leading scorer, and while he has scored two important playoff goals, Clark is the key man here. His ability to cover ground means Houston’s standard 4-4-2 alignment can match Kansas City’s 4-3-3 in the center of the field, clearly an important element for the visitors.

His experience helps mitigate any concerns for the Dynamo’s other central midfield man, first-year starter Warren Creavalle. Or, just consider this: when Clark missed four game late in the summer, Houston lost three of them and go out-scored, 12-2.

The Dynamo will, at least, have left back Corey Ashe back in the lineup; he sat out the team’s opening leg (0-0) draw in this series due to yellow card accumulation.

  • Kinnear in the playoffs

If you think the Dynamo will collapse under the weight of it (the first leg having gone less than perfect, going to KC without any advantage in the score, that is) then you don’t know the Dynamo history.

First, Dominic Kinnear’s team got here by advancing past New York in a very similar circumstance, after a draw at home in the first match of the home-and-away set.

Plus, there is Kinnear and his mastery of the MLS post-season. He is a stellar 14-7-5 in the post-season.