United has third game in nine days on Sunday
The word "regen" -- short for regeneration -- has never been used so much in the midst of a celebration.
D.C. United's reward for earning a place in the MLS Eastern Conference finals will be its third playoff match in nine days when it visits the fifth-seeded Houston Dynamo on Sunday. Only after the first leg of the conference final will both teams have a week to rest and prepare for the second leg at RFK Stadium on Nov. 18.
|United at Dynamo|
|Game 1 Eastern Conference finals|
|When »||Sunday, 4 p.m.|
|Where »||BBVA Compass||Stadium, Houston|
|TV »||NBC Sports Network|
|D.C. United midfielder Andy Najar will miss both games of the MLS Eastern Conference finals against Houston after being suspended an additional two matches for throwing the ball at referee Jair Marrufo during a 1-1 draw with New York on Nov. 3. Najar was initially red carded and missed the second leg of United's playoff series win over the Red Bulls. He will be eligible should D.C. United advance to MLS Cup.|
"I'm real happy for the guys, I really am," United coach Ben Olsen said. "But we've got to smile for an hour and then regen and get ready for a quick turnaround and a tough place in Houston."
Second-seeded United has suffered two losses this year at newly opened BBVA Compass Stadium, where the Dynamo have yet to lose (13-0-6). A 4-0 loss there July 15, United's worst defeat of the season, shared something in common with United's playoff clinching win over the Red Bulls: Goalkeeper Bill Hamid was sent off with a red card for a tackle in the penalty area.
His backup, Joe Willis, didn't save the Dynamo's ensuing penalty kick that night. But his denial of New York's Kenny Cooper on Thursday wasn't his first penalty save of the year. Willis stoned Chicago's Pavel Pardo from the spot during a preseason match in Charleston, S.C.
"I was OK with him going in that position, that's for sure," Olsen said. "It's a no-lose situation for a goalkeeper, right? You're coming off the bench and not expected to save it."
Willis, 24, will make his first postseason start against the Dynamo while Hamid serves his red-card suspension. He was 4-2-3 during Hamid's stint with the under-23 U.S. national team early in the year, including a 3-2 win over Houston at RFK Stadium in April. He registered a shutout in his MLS debut as a rookie last season and has thrived alongside Hamid, 21, and Andrew Dykstra, 26.
Willis knows Hamid's five saves against New York before his red card were crucial.
"It jacks me up," Willis said. "I love seeing him make saves. As a goalie, I like seeing goalies do well. It just makes you feel good."
With Willis, D.C. United likely will have its 32nd different lineup in 37 matches. Because United owns the best record among the four teams left in the playoffs, a series win would mean it would host MLS Cup at RFK Stadium on Dec. 1.