Nevertheless, the varied start times matter little to Union boss Peter Nowak, who is more eager to get off to the right start against the Dynamo at home.
"We know the playoffs are not about who is going to play nice and pretty, or who won their last 10 games or 20 games, but who will do the little things to win the series," Nowak said yesterday. "Houston is a very big and physical team, and tactically they are very good. There have been personnel changes for the team, [but] as far as their game plan, it's the same, and it's a good one. We need to come out and be physical and play a smart game."
On all outward appearances, this matchup bodes well for the Union. The Union is 2-0-2 all time against the Dynamo, with both wins coming on the road. The series opens at PPL Park, where the Union has come up short only four times in MLS competition since the building opened in June 2010.
The Dynamo rides a five-match unbeaten streak and enters the playoffs on a high, having beaten a Los Angeles lineup missing Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane, 3-1, on the final day of the regular season. With the win came a No. 2 seed. Look for Houston to lead its charge with forwards Brad Davis, Bobby Boswell and midfielder/defender Geoff Cameron. Cameron has five goals and five assists, second in the latter category to Davis, who leads with 16 assists to go with four goals.
"This is the second season. We get a new chance, and I am sure both teams are focused on winning, whether or not they were winning or losing before the playoffs started," Houston coach Dominick Kinnear said on a conference call yesterday. "I think the guys have handled the pressure well, and I am not saying it doesn't matter how well you play, because it does, but we've been under pressure, and I think the last five to six games leading up to this, we've handled the test pretty well."
The Union has a young, inexperienced lineup. Most of its roster hasn't been in this situation. Nowak was asked what he, as coach, tells his young team to minimize the shock value?
"You tell them nothing," Nowak said. "You don't talk to them at all. The more you talk to them, it can actually have a negative effect. The most important thing to stress [among the players] is to match the intensity of the game, of your opponent of the moment. You do that and you'll do all the little things right to win."