The Impact will look to counter Houston's physicality with their own technical ability in a tough road encounter on Thursday.
Despite some positive results at home against the Dynamo, including a 5-0 win in August, the Impact are aware that leaving BBVA Compass Stadium with a win will be a tall order.
“It’s always tough there in Houston; there’s not a ton of teams that go there and win,” Davy Arnaud told the assembled media at Saputo Stadium. “They have a lot of good players: Brad Davis, Will Bruin scores goals, Giles Barnes, Boniek Garcia – they have a lot of very good players.”
Particularly difficult for the Impact will be dealing with the physicality of the Dynamo, which is a common facet of MLS teams, and one that the Impact’s relatively older squad tends to struggle with.
Midfielder Patrice Bernier, who doesn’t expect to start Thursday’s game, explained that the key for the Impact will be to play to the team's strengths: keeping the ball, being technically sound and making smart decisions.
“We have to try and dictate the play more and be a lot more mobile than we have been in recent games,” Bernier said. “We need to be able to keep the ball and play.
“The Dynamo are a team that like to play aggressive and get into physical duels, but if we can keep the ball we’ll avoid a lot of that.”
Marco Di Vaio, who leads the Impact in scoring with 20 goals, also expects the Dynamo to try to impose themselves physically in the game, much like Toronto FC managed to do to great success in a 1-0 win at BMO Field on Saturday.
The 37-year old is confident, however, that the Impact can find ways to put the Dynamo under pressure.
“We know that in the three games we’ve played them that we found a lot of space and we were dangerous,” Di Vaio said. “We have to have the confidence that we can go and find those goals that we need in this game too.”
The Impact will be able to count on the services of full back Jeb Brovsky, who’s missed the last two weeks after fracturing his right toe in training. For Coach Marco Schällibaum, the Colorado native’s return to the lineup will provide a great boost for his side.
“There’s a strong chance he plays tomorrow, because Jeb is a warrior; he fights for everything and everyone,” Schällibaum said. “And tomorrow we need players that are also physically up to the challenge.”
Hulking Colombian defender Nelson Rivas, who has yet to play a game this season due to a series of injuries, travelled with the team to Houston. Schallibaum hasn’t yet decided whether the former Inter Milan center back will play a part in the game.
“He’s really strong physically and mentally and I saw him for a few weeks now and he looks well,” Schällibaum said. “We know that he hasn’t played for a year and playing to the rhythm of the game could be difficult but we’ll see; sometimes, you have to be a little crazy.”
The winner of Thursday’s game in Houston will host Supporters’ Shield winner New York in the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday afternoon in the first game of a home and home series.