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Wilf Thorne/Houston Dynamo

Championship dreams drive Dynamo forward against Seattle Sounders FC

After 37 matches played this year, the Houston Dynamo are only two away from featuring in the MLS Cup final. To get there they’ll have to eliminate last year’s champions Seattle Sounders FC, with the the first leg of the Western Conference Championship kicking off tonight at BBVA Compass Stadium (8:30 p.m. CT | FS1, Fox Deportes).

This is the club’s seventh appearance in the conference finals – the most in MLS since the Dynamo’s first season in 2006 – and the franchise looks to secure its fifth appearance in an MLS Cup final. A result on Tuesday could set the Dynamo up nicely heading into the second leg on November 30 in Seattle.

“We know that it is a great opportunity,” said Cabrera. “It is great momentum for us. We are bringing good expectations, but still, we have to play two games, two tough games, one in Houston and one in Seattle. We have to go slowly and day-by-day.”

Houston and Seattle met twice during the regular season. The Dynamo opened the season against Sounders FC with a 2-1 victory on March 4 at BBVA Compass Stadium. Seattle won 1-0 when it was their turn to host on June 4 at CenturyLink Field.

Home field may prove the difference as neither club has ever won at the other’s venue. The series will be decided by the team with the most goals across both legs – with away goals, extra time and penalties serving as tiebreakers.

Both teams are just over two weeks removed from their last playoff match and have been anxiously awaiting to kick off the series. The FIFA international break has given teams time to recover from the rigors of the long season, which should make for a spectacle in a sold-out BBVA Compass Stadium.

“I think that every player here wants to play in a championship game; that’s what drives you,” said midfielder Tomás Martínez. “I think a soccer player’s career can be short and you have to get the best out of it because you don’t always get to play in a championship game. We are privileged for this opportunity. We have made it this far and we have to do our best to win the Western Conference Championship.”

Martínez has only been with the team a few months but his presence has been an impactful one during the playoff push. The 22-year-old Argentinian debuted for the club in August and went on to appear nine times (5 starts, 2 goals) before starting all three games and providing one assist in the postseason.

Martínez will be leaned upon as a catalyst alongside the club’s top assist provider Alex and help the likes of Alberth Elis, Erick Torres, Mauro Manotas and Romell Quioto break through Seattle’s defense, third stingiest in the league during the regular season.

On the other end, Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro and company will have a tough task of their own against a Dynamo defense that was sixth-best during the regular season. The defense has yet to allow a goal at home during these playoffs and have given up only two goals since the start of October.

“We know that we have been overlooked because we have been against all the statistics,” said Cabrera. “We know who we are. We are not going to think that someone is going to look over our shoulder. No. We know what kind of team we are. We are humble enough to recognize that, but we are ready to play on the field because on the field everyone is equal.”

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