After playing to a scoreless draw in Houston on Monday night, the Houston Dynamo and Portland Timbers face off in Portland on Sunday to decide who moves on to the Western Conference final (6:30 p.m. CT; FS1 | WATCH PARTY).
The task sounds simple for the Dynamo, win or score and tie. Another scoreless draw would send this match to extra time and possibly penalties. The winner moves on to face Seattle Sounders FC for a spot in the MLS Cup Final, the loser calls it a season.
Wilmer Cabrera, however, is confident his side will not pack up for the offseason just yet.
“We have good momentum right now,” said Cabrera. "The players feel good, they feel motivated and they feel good. We play against the team that finished first in the Western Conference and it was an even game and it was an even match. We went after them trying to find the goal and they were good, but we were good too, so we have to continue now.”
Monday’s nil-nil draw was positive for the Dynamo in that they did not allow an away goal. That came down to a stout defensive effort that was missing two of the top contributors during the season in Leonardo and A.J. DeLaGarza.
DeLaGarza tore his ACL in the final match of the regular season while Leonardo was injured in the knockout match with Sporting Kansas City. Their replacements in the lineup have stepped in to continue their work, including summer signing Philippe Senderos – named Man of the Match Monday against Portland.
“When I came over I wanted to hit the ground running,” said Senderos. It took a bit of time, but you know, now I am playing and the team is doing well. It obviously helps as a defender to come into a team that is doing well.”
The defense took a hit off the field with the suspension of Tyler Deric, who was just named MLS Player of the Month for his efforts in October. Joe Willis – who featured in eight matches as a starter – is expected to step in his place.
The Timbers, however, may be in a worse situation. Portland’s three substitutions on Monday – Larrys Mabiala, Diego Charra and Darlington Nagbe – where injury related. Chara will miss Sunday’s match, while Mabiala, Chara, Sebastian Blanco and Fanendo Adi are among those listed as questionable.
Diego Valeri, a finalist for the MLS MVP Award, is playing, however, and he may the biggest threat to the Dynamo’s season. He will be a focus of the defense.
With the defensive support behind them, it will be the offense who will be tasked with putting the pressure on the home side. Midfielder Juan David Cabezas is confident all the pieces can come together to manage the result on the road.
“This is the most important game this season” said Cabezas. “We believe we can do it. We are going to try to do our best job possible. They have the pressure of being at home and having to win. We continue to believe, and we are sure we are going to do a good job.”