If any team knows how influential it can be to host an MLS Cup final, it's the Houston Dynamo.
After all, the club played what amounted to an away game at The Home Depot Center last November when it lost to the LA Galaxy 1-0 in the season’s deciding game. But a change in MLS rules will now grant that advantage to the team with the best record.
With such a tempting carrot at the end of a season-long stick and the introduction of an unbalanced schedule, Houston knows that how they play against their Eastern Conference brethren will take on additional importance in 2012.
“You have to make sure you take care of those Eastern Conference games because they can be six point swings,” Dynamo striker Calen Carr told MLSsoccer.com after training Monday. “We want to make sure to do well, especially in the ones away from home. We want to stay near the top of the table because we’ve got high goals for this season.”
At the top of the list of those goals is winning MLS Cup. To get there, Houston will play three matches against every Eastern Conference club for every one against a Western Conference club.
While the East may be considered the weaker of the two conferences, Houston knows they will have to bring it week in and week out against teams that will become very familiar with each other over the course of the season.
“It’s an opportunity for us as most would tend to agree the teams in the West are a little stronger and that may make it easier to come out with the best record in the league,” captain Brian Ching said. “We have to take advantage of it.”
Houston begins Eastern Conference play Sunday when they travel to Toyota Park to play the Chicago Fire. The match will be the first of five in a row against teams from the East, making this an important early stretch in the Dynamo.
“I think [the unbalanced schedule] is good and bad,” defender Geoff Cameron explained. “I’m disappointed we’re not playing in Portland this year, those trips are good and they’re great environments to play in. But we’re going to New York twice and Kansas City twice and that’s an advantage for them.
“But teams are coming here twice and we have to take advantage here and take care of our business with the heat and new stadium,” the USMNT center back continued. “It all works out to be good but it’s difficult to play teams three times because you don’t always want to see the same team over and over again. We have to make sure we’re sharp and ready for every game.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.