There were times in Sunday’s Eastern Conference Championship opener that the Houston Dynamo and D.C. United benches resembled a triage unit.
Without starters Ricardo Clark, Jermaine Taylor and Calen Carr to begin the game, the Dynamo suffered further loses when Adam Moffat came out due to a chest injury and several other players worked through nagging injuries. Add to that the three injuries suffered by D.C. and the game bordered on a reserve match.
The good news for Houston is that they fought through the match to claim a 3-1 win with the help of some key replacements.
The better news is that for the first time since the playoffs began the Dynamo will get a regular week’s rest.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had a full week. We don’t know what to do with ourselves,” defender Bobby Boswell said Tuesday. “We’re going to recover and get guys, try to get them healthy, and for the rest of us try to get back to work.”
Two players included in the group to get healthy are Carr and Taylor.
Taylor was involved in Tuesday’s training and told the Houston Chronicle he expects to be ready for Sunday’s second leg. Carr was relegated to jogging and work on the side as the forward has his sights set on a Sunday return.
“This full week’s going to feel like a month compared to the short rest we’ve been on before,” Carr said after training. “It’s going to be good for me to have a little bit more time to try and build my way up through the week. It’s still very early in the week so you don’t want to rush anything but I’m hoping to be back for the weekend.”
The team’s health is a result of some physical matches and a truncated schedule that put them in four matches in 12 days.
Houston’s Eastern Conference semifinal with Sporting Kansas City was as physical as they get. The two clubs went toe-to-toe for 180 physical, intense minutes. Sunday’s first leg with D.C. United was no different. Now the club is again looking a return leg in what is sure to continue on as a physical series.
With the rise in intensity come higher stakes and more reliance on starters.
“At this particular time you’re going with starters more often than you would maybe in the middle of the season,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear, who has used three different starting lineups in as many games. “I think this week’s break will be good for everybody involved and I think the soccer will be better because the players will be a little bit fresher.”
Houston has now made it to the other side of that packed schedule. From here on things will slow down significantly; starting with a normal week of rest.
“This week off is going to be huge,” said striker Will Bruin. “It was a grind. A lot of teams would put their head down like they were tired but this is a group of strong guys physically and mentally going through it and now we get a week to recover and rejuvenate and be refreshed.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com