It's not really difficult to make a case for the Houston Dynamo to advance past the Eastern Conference Knockout Round when they square off against the Montreal Impact on Halloween night at BBVA Compass.
What you have in this one-game match-up is two opposite ends of the spectrum. On one side are the seasoned Dynamo, who have played in four of the last seven MLS Cup Championship games (they're 2-of-4 by the way). On the other end are the league darling Impact, who are making their first playoff appearance in only their second year of existence (technically this team has been around for years, but 2013 is this club's second season in MLS).
Yet, we here at Hair Balls feel compelled to give you a couple of reasons to ditch the trick-or-treating in favor of packing BBVA Compass Stadium for another year of MLS Cup Playoff action.
Rounding into form The Dynamo are usually known for entering the playoffs on a bit of hot streak. The record indicates that the end to the 2013 regular season was business as usual at BBVA; going 4-1-2 down the stretch. The only concern for the Dynamo would be their performance against the top teams during that span. They dropped a 3-0 result at home to the New York Red Bulls, and had a pair of draws against Sporting Kansas City and the New England Revolution.
One of the wins during the stretch was a 1-0 result over the Impact on October 4 at BBVA. The Impact, who started the season on fire, have cooled off significantly in the latter months of the season. During the same stretch, the Impact have gone 1-5-1.
Where the goals will come from If the Impact get on the board at BBVA, it's going to be because of Marco di Vaio. The Italian international tallied 20 goals for the Impact this season, good for third in the MLS Golden Boot race. Against the Dynamo this season, he netted three goals in two matches at Stade Saputo. The problem for di Vaio is that he's been held in check as the team has struggled as of late.
The Dynamo score on committee; the leading goal scorer this season was Giles Barnes with 9 goals. He has three goals in the past six matches. Will Bruin has eight goals to his name in 2013, and Brad Davis follows with four.
Of the two teams, the Dynamo's attack is a more balanced attack.
The battle of midfield The match will be won in the midfield, or the trenches. What teams have been able to do against Montreal as of late is neutralize their midfield play -- particularly that of Davy Arnaud, Felipe Martins, and Wandrille Lefevre. Patrice Bernier has been battling nagging injuries as of late, and his been omitted from the starting 11 more often that not.
The Dynamo have always seemed to get consistent play from the midfield. But unlike last year, there's no Adam Moffat to help anchor the defensive end of the midfield. That onus now falls on Warren Creavalle, who was just recently inserted full-time into the starting 11 once Moffat was shipped to Seattle. If he can continue to refine his game and gel well with Ricardo Clark, then Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia will have more time to wreck havoc in the attacking third of the pitch.
Key holes in defense Both teams have huge voids in central defense. The Dynamo are expected to be without the services of Jermaine Taylor for the duration of the playoff run. To fill his shoes, Eric Brunner steps in, carrying with him his own playoff experience from his run with the MLS Cup Champion Columbus Crew in 2008. Helping him anchor the center backfield will be stalwart Bobby Boswell.
— Rod Ryan Show (@rodryanshow) October 30, 2013
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The Impact are without Alessandro Nesta, who has perhaps the biggest pedigree in all of MLS. Nesta played for Italy in three FIFA World Cups, and played for AC Milan, winning Siere A titles, UEFA Champions League titles, and a FIFA Club World Cup title.
Nesta suffered a calf injury a week ago, but his absence was felt in the team's 1-0 loss in the regular season finale at Toronto.
Media pundits favor the Dynamo to advance from this match and have a potential showdown with the Supporter's Shield-winning Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Las Vegas has the Dynamo favored by the slimmest of margins, probably due to the BBVA factor. The match is set to kick-off at 7:30 p.m.