Boniek Garcia

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CONCACAF World Cup qualifying preview: Beyond USMNT-Mexico

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Outside of the United States’ rivalry match with Mexico — just about everything you need to know for that is here — CONCACAF’s other Hex contestants debut on Friday as well.

[ CONMEBOL: Argentina in trouble ]

Panama opens up its Hex at home with a visit from Honduras. Panama’s six MLS players star with longtime LA Galaxy keeper Jaime Penedo and captain Felipe Baloy. Contrast that veteran squad with what’s across the field: a Honduran corps that mixes veteran savvy in the form of Boniek Garcia, Maynor Figueroa, and Roger Espinoza with electric young Olympic stars Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto. That one kicks early, at 3:35 p.m. EDT.

Costa Rica is on the road before its Tuesday home match with the U.S., and its destination for Friday’s opener is Trinidad and TobagoLos Ticos still rank ahead of the United States in FIFA rankings at 18th, and new coach Oscar Ramirez has a Hex-experiences squad including Keylor Navas, Bryan Ruiz, Michael Umana, Celso Borges, and Joel Campbell amongst others. Kickoff from Costa Rica is scheduled for 6 p.m. EDT.

T&T takes the place of Jamaica, and will hope for a better fate than the Reggae Boyz of 2014. Jamaica scooped up just five draws in finishing six points shy of the interconfederation playoff spot.

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.

MLS playoff focus: Notes on the Houston Dynamo ahead of Saturday’s first leg against Sporting KC

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Ahead of Saturday’s first 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 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, and can also been seen on NBC Sports Live Extra)

  • Any gas left in the Dynamo tank?

Houston is playing its 6th match in 17 days, a fairly ridiculous (and certainly taxing) run of games. Players aren’t complaining, and their mantra of “We can rest in the post-season” is an honest and logical response. Still, there has been so much travel and so many tough matches (with a lot riding on every one) that you really have to wonder about the physical state of the team.

Especially as manager Dominic Kinnear has done so little rotating in the starting lineup. He really didn’t have a choice since the team was fighting so hard to go through in Champions League, to get into the playoffs and then to advance past Montreal and then New York in those playoffs.

The team finished 120 minutes against New York on Wednesday night, flew back into Texas the next day and was right back on the practice field for a light workout Friday, just 24 hours before the weekend kickoff.

“All the guys are feeling like they played 120 minutes two nights ago, so it’s been a difficult and pretty quick turnaround,” U.S. international midfielder Brad Davis said Friday via national conference call from Houston. “It is what it is. Both teams have to handle it. I think it’s really going to be a mental thing more than a physical thing at times. I think the guys are a little bit sore, but I don’t think they care about it too much. We’re looking forward to the game.”

(MORE: PST match preview, Sporting KC at Houston)

  • Ashe suspended, plus yellow card warning for the Dynamo

Houston left back Corey Ashe will sit out after collecting his second booking of the playoffs Wednesday in New York.

Two yellow cards in the playoffs means the offender sits out the following match. Right winger Boniek Garcia is the only other Houston man on caution warning. His would be an enormous loss, however, as the Dynamo’s most creative player. A killer pass from the Honduran international set the wheels in motion for Omar Cummings’ series-winner Wednesday at Red Bull Arena.

Remember, starting Jermaine Taylor is already missing along Houston’s back line. Eric Brunner has filled in for the Jamaican international.

Most likely replacement for Ashe: Mike Chabala, who has played sparingly for the Orange this year. Kinnear could also move Warren Creavalle there, as the versatile second-year man has spent some time at BBVA in the outside back position. That would require a midfield makeover, however, most likely with Davis sliding inside and Andrew Driver taking Davis wide role on the left side of Houston’s 4-4-2.

Or, could this be a way to get Omar Cummings, scorer of two critical goals off the bench against New York, into the starting 11? That would mean dropping Giles Barnes into the midfield for Creavalle.

  • Crunching numbers, and getting things right at the right time

Everyone knows Dominic Kinnear-coached teams know how to win in the playoffs. But it’s more than that; Kinnear’s teams know how to get their stuff together generally at the right time of year.

Consider that since a bad loss at home to New York back in mid-September, the Dynamo is 6-1-3 in MLS regular season and playoff matches.

Speaking of records, and since we cannot do one of these without mentioning Kinnear’s fantastic playoff record – especially since it keeps getting better in the current post-season – let’s get this over with.

Kinnear is now 14-7-4 in playoff matches with Houston. (Does he move ahead of Bruce Arena as “King of all MLS Playoffs” since the Galaxy is now out of this thing?)

And finally this: Kinnear’s team is 8-1-1 in playoff games in Houston since moving to South Texas from San Jose in 2006.

Houston Dynamo Man of the Match: Omar Cummings

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Houston was never destined to get a bunch of chances in its big, second-leg contest Wednesday in New Jersey. The Dynamo, up against its fifth match in 14 days, playing on the road, and facing a star-strewn team with about three times the payroll, had to play it safe all along.

That meant not putting many numbers into the attack … and clinging tightly to abundant faith. The faith was that one of the Dynamo playmakers, perhaps veteran U.S. international Brad Davis or Honduran international Boniek Garcia, could capitalize on one of the few thrusts Houston would have.

Davis did, finishing clinically when he picked off an ill-advised pass in the Red Bulls defensive third before the break Wednesday. Garcia did his part, too, at the moment of series-turning truth.

But it was Omar Cummings scoring a huge goal yet again, who won the series for his hard-working, overachieving club. Cummings was the hero on Sunday, too, finding the equalizer two minutes into stoppage time in Sunday’s 2-2 draw in Texas. Both goals came off the bench.

Garcia launched the telling sequence with a sweet little release along the right for outside back Kofi Sarkodie. Cam Weaver worked the ball back across goal, and Cummings worked his way inside his mark, getting just enough on the 104th minute shot (14 minutes into extra time Wednesday) for the goal that puts Houston that much closer to its fifth MLS Cup appearance in eight years.

(MORE: Houston stuns New York, advances into Eastern Conference finals)

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Huge MLS playoff upset: Houston Dynamo stuns New York, advances into the Eastern Conference finals

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The New York Red Bulls, so traditionally blessed with world class talent, will have to wait yet another year for its first championship. And they will have one more year to considering another opportunity squandered … more or less a club hallmark.  

What looked like the high profile club’s best hope in years went all wrong Wednesday at Red Bull Arena, where the small budget, never-say-die Houston Dynamo did what it has always been so good at doing: managing the playoffs with a steely confidence and finding their way through against the odds.

The teams were level at 1-1 after 90 minutes Wednesday; the highly unlikely Dynamo’s series-winner came from Omar Cummings 14 minutes into extra time, as the visitors prevailed in the Eastern Conference semifinal total goals series, 4-3.

Houston will meet the Sporting Kansas City in the conference finals, with a trip to MLS Cup 2013 on the line. Houston has eliminated Sporting KC from the playoffs in the last two seasons, including the 2011 Eastern Conference finals.

New York’s Red Bull Arena, now four years old, has yet to host a playoff win. In fact, the Red Bulls have not won a playoff game at home (in any venue) since 2005.

Houston, the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed, was a big underdog in the series, with a total roster salary of roughly a third of the Red Bulls’ payroll.

(MORE: Houston Man of the Match, Omar Cummings)

Boniek Garcia, a Honduran international and Houston’s most creative attacker, started the sequence with a fabulous pass that put Kofi Sarkodie through on the right side. Cam Weaver headed Sarkodie’s cross back across the goal mouth, where Cummings was in position to poke home from close range. Luis Robles got over to the ball, but knocked it out just after it had crossed the line.

New York’s Brandon Barklage had slipped at the far post, allowing Weaver an unchallenged header.

The first half was all Red Bulls, but the moments that mattered were an exchange of blunders.

New York was certainly closer to scoring all along. Henry put Bradley Wright-Phillips through for the game’s first big chance, but his little shot in the 12th minute past Tally Hall lacked the pace and Corey Ashe was there to clean up before the ball could roll into goal.

Wright-Phillips was off target again in the 19th when Eric Brunner slipped, leaving the Englishman with a free header off David Carney’s cross. Then came the game’s first blunder.

Of all the reasons Houston cold have gone behind – something special from Thierry Henry, fatigue from 5th game in 14 days, etc. – what happened Wednesday was surely a toughie. Hall, who wasn’t at his best on the two goals conceded Sunday in Houston, fumbled a benign cross from the right side; Wright-Phillips cleaned it up easily for a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute.

The blunder at the other end arrived off the right foot of Red Bulls center back Ibrahim Sekagya, who was laboring with an apparent hamstring issue. He won a ball near the top of the penalty area but made the jayvee mistake of playing a flat ball across his own goal. Davis picked off the pass and calmly slotted past Luis Robles.

It was Davis’ third playoff goal, but his first in the post-season since 2007 (which happens to be the last time Houston won MLS Cup).

(MORE: Tally Hall rallies from early blunder to save Dynamo night)

Caution ruled much of the second half, with Houston clearly more interested in taking the game. What chances that were all came at the Red Bulls attacking end. Henry’s twisting header in the 65th caressed the crossbar. Eric Alexander came in to create some trouble. Henry very nearly won it a minute into stoppage time with an audacious overhead kick, which deflected out for a corner kick.

Houston wanted to play counter-attack soccer (the way New York did so well Sunday in Texas) but just isn’t as good at that game as the Red Bulls. So Robles was rarely bothered in the home team’s goal – not until the telling moment, that is.