First goal could be key to Thursday success

With a one-goal aggregate lead over the Philadelphia Union, the Houston Dynamo do not plan to sit back and nurse their advantage in Thursday night's second leg. As they have done over the past few months, Houston’s plan is to come out and take the game to the opponent. For them, that means getting out in front and taking that all-important first goal.

“The first goal’s a killer in this league,” defender Bobby Boswell said. “I’ve played for Peter Nowak, and he stresses that. Anytime you get the first goal, you make the other team chase the game.”

Houston is 10-1-4 in league games this year when drawing first blood. For one of the league’s most potent home offenses -- Houston tied for best in the league, averaging 1.88 goals per game at home -- the Dynamo hope to continue their attacking prowess and book their passage to the Eastern Conference final.

To do that, the Dynamo will look to fly out of the traps from the first whistle. Doing so will mean matching the pressure and determination of a Union team that will undoubtedly be eager to get off to a flyer and even the series.

“Philadelphia is not coming here to make up the numbers; they’re coming here to advance and play well, so we’ll have to be ready,” head coach Dominic Kinnear said.

Playing smart down the stretch
While getting out to a fast start is important, having the experience and know-how to take care of a lead is just as important. One aspect of that is managing emotions, something the vastly experienced Dynamo showed Sunday.

“When we got scored on, it was a huge swing in momentum, but the guys didn’t put their heads down,” Kinnear said. “It’s a great show of character.”

Keeping their head while facing adversity is one thing, but having the maturity to kill a game off is another. Houston faced a late onslaught from the Union on Sunday, enduring some scary moments along the way.

“I think in the first half Sunday we looked good … but when they started to throw guys forward at the end of the game, there were times that our inexperience showed,” said midfielder Brad Davis. “We need to be able to play the ball forward and break that pressure, and hopefully that’s where our experience comes through.”

Past in the past
One piece of history shows the Union has a legitimate chance of finding success at Robertson Stadium – they have done it twice. Philadelphia has won the only two meetings in Houston – a 3-2 victory in 2010 and a 1-0 victory to open 2011 – but with the stakes high, the Dynamo are not focusing on that.

“We’re not getting those games back, and this is something bigger,” said defender Andre Hainault. “Them beating us earlier or last season isn’t going to matter [Thursday] ... that’s the big one.”

Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.