As the Houston Dynamo trained Tuesday, you would never know they were preparing for a do-or-die game 36 hours away. Joking with each other and applauding as Alexander López ripped a volley into the net, the mood on the field was no different than any other day.
Things will change by Wednesday night (7 p.m. CT; CSN Houston). The club will be focused as they try and turn an even Eastern Conference Semifinals with the New York Red Bulls in their favor. But as the moment of truth -- at least for this round -- approaches, the Dynamo enter the game with an attitude that is a product of their experience in pressure situations.
“You can’t be walking around on pins and needles,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear. “These guys are always loose. Their approach is correct. If they were quiet and very tense, I’d be very surprised.”
Kinnear’s troops have been in these situations before. They have come out on top of their last three home-and-home playoffs in the last two years. On all those occasions, they had at least a one goal lead heading into the second leg. This time, they don't have that cushion.
Against a dangerous team like the Red Bulls being on par is certainly not a good thing. But it's not a bad thing, either.
“It’s a different feel going into the second leg winning as opposed to when everything’s on the line for one game,” said forward Will Bruin. “We’re going to approach it offensively. It’s essentially another play-in game. We’re not going to go sit back. We’re going to push for a goal.”
Aiding in that effort will be that the series leaves the congested confines of BBVA Compass Stadium for the expansive space of Red Bull Arena. On the surface, it's a change that will open the game for the likes of Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry. Houston’s players are looking to exploit the same change as well with players such as Boniek García, Brad Davis and Giles Barnes looking to show their own slick, loose brand of attacking soccer.
“Space is going to be great,” said Garcia through a translator. “For me, it’s very exciting. We’re going to look to play and counter. There’s going to be space for both sides. We’re coming out to win. A tie’s not good enough so there’s pressure to get the result.”
While Houston is loose they know what is at stake. Come game time in a situation where a win is a must, the Dynamo have confidence they will respond.
“We know when to flip the switch,” said Corey Ashe. “We have the experience, we’ve done it before. We know it’s going to be a hard-fought game.
“We’re going to try and take the fight to them,” Ashe continued. “We’re not going to sit back and let them dictate the flow of the game. We’re going out there to win the game.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.