D.C. United will be looking to buck an MLS trend while having the dubious honor of being the first visiting team at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Visiting teams are 1-5-2 over the last three seasons as the opponent in either the first game of a new stadium or an expansion team's home opener, with D.C. being on the wrong end a 3-2 scoreline in the Philadelphia Union's home opener at Lincoln Financial Field back in 2010. The only team to manage three points out of an opposing team's stadium opener is Portland, which spoiled Vancouver's opening of BC Place last season.
"It's a lot of energy and a lot of excitement that feeds into the home team, and that gives them a little bit of extra oomph and a little more legs and you have to be ready to go to battle," D.C. assistant coach Chad Ashton said. "We've talked about let's look at it the right way and say, 'Hey, this is going to be a great environment to get to play in. It's a great challenge for us to go in and take them on in their home opener at that stadium. Let's go have fun with it, let's see how quiet we can make the place.' And we're looking forward to that."
The stadium opener will be special for three United players, as Dwayne De Rosario and Pat Onstad each played huge roles in the franchise's storied history, and Danny Cruz spent the last three seasons with the club and started every playoff game last season, including going all 90 minutes in the MLS Cup final.
"I'm excited obviously to be a part of (the stadium opening)," Cruz said. "They deserve it as an organization, the fans deserve it, the players deserve it. It's in a beautiful location, it's a beautiful stadium, right downtown. It's going to be awesome."
De Rosario and Onstad have their places in Dynamo lore on display at the new stadium, as they are two of 16 past and present players who have their likenesses on pillars standing around the arena. They each won two MLS Cups with the Dynamo, and De Rosario won the MVP of the 2007 MLS Cup final — ironically played at RFK Stadium — as one of his many achievements while wearing Houston orange.
"We're pretty lucky and pretty fortunate that the schedule worked out like it did," Onstad said. "I thought we had great fan support in the five years that I was there, and it's nice for them to have a nice venue to go watch a soccer game."
BBVA Compass Stadium is going to be a far cry from Robertson Stadium, where the Dynamo enjoyed success but ultimately needed an updated place they could call their own.
"(Playing at Robertson) was hard," Cruz said. "I'm not saying anything that we haven't said before, but when football season comes around, the field is awful, and they know that. Last year they did a better job, but the year before that it was bad. I think it goes without saying that the facilities are old, but now they have a home that they deserve, a practice facility that they deserve."
One inescapable holdover from the playing conditions at Robertson Stadium is the Houston heat. Geoff Cameron told the Houston Chronicle earlier in the week that players can't feel any wind on the field, likening it to an oven. This weekend's forecast should give D.C. a bit of a break, with a high of 84 and a 50 percent chance of rain. United might not be so lucky for their return trip in July.
"It's always an advantage (for Houston)," Cruz said. "Teams that come from the East Coast and go to Houston and play in that heat, we always looked at it, when I was there, that we had an advantage. By the 60th minute everyone's dead, but we're fine and used to it. We train in it at 10 a.m, 11 every day. I know that will be an advantage to them."
D.C. already has one advantage over Houston this season, winning their matchup two weeks ago in the nation's capital. With Houston having some key players rested and looking to open their new home like most teams have done before them, the onus falls on D.C. to weather the early storm and not let the Dynamo capitalize on all the added energy in the building. United definitely want to avoid a scenario like the last time the Dynamo opened a home stadium — when they jumped all over the Colorado Rapids in a 5-2 victory on the strength of four Brian Ching goals in their inaugural game in 2006.
"It's obviously going to be an unbelievable atmosphere," Cruz said. "It's going to be 100 miles an hour at the beginning of the game. The key is for us to do what we've been doing the last few weeks and not shy away from it and stick together as a group. If we come out and start as well as New York did on Wednesday, I think we'll be OK. The start of the game, getting the fans out of the game is going to be important."
Here are a few more D.C. United notes:
SALIHI FINDING HIS FORM
After a prolonged drought that turned Hamdi Salihi from a preseason Newcomer of the Year candidate to high-priced bench-warmer, the Designated Player has found the back of the net in each of the last two matches, showing signs that he may yet be able to make a tangible impact this season. Despite being used to a starting role, Salihi has begun to adjust to MLS and to his role as reserve contributor.
"He's handled it well," Ashton said. "I give him a lot of credit. He's maintained a positive attitude. All these guys want to be on the field all the time. and he's gone about his business the exact same way. Obviously he's gotten a couple the past two games. I think a big part of it is him starting to figure other players out, him starting to figure out other players in our league, defenders, how to play against them. That work is not only out here on the field but also looking at film and doing some homework, and it's paying off for him."
Salihi's two goals have both been quality finishes. He ran onto pass from De Rosario and took a deft touch in stride late in D.C.'s 5-3 loss at San Jose last week, and his side bicycle volley of Brandon McDonald's header put the finishing touches on D.C.'s 2-0 win in Toronto over the weekend.
"The guy scores," Ashton said. "That's what he does over the course of his career. That's a big-time luxury to have coming off the bench. It's a credit to having some depth, and as we go through the season, all these guys are going to play a starting role at some point in time and come of the bench at some point in time, and how they handle that is going to figure into our success."
WHITE ON COMEBACK TRAIL
With the club's centerback injury crisis forcing Perry Kitchen, Robbie Russell and Daniel Woolard all into action alongside McDonald, second-year defender Ethan White could do nothing but sit and watch.
While injuries to Dejan Jakovic and Emiliano Dudar have caught most of the attention, the absence of White, who underwent right knee surgery to repair his meniscus two months ago, has also taken its toll on D.C.'s depth chart. As a rookie, White played in 24 games, started 21 and became a serviceable option for Ben Olsen.
"It's hard sitting at home watching the game on TV knowing that we need a centerback, but you can't rush it," White said. 'They went out and got the 'W' (against Toronto), so you can't ask for more of them."
White is still a bit away from returning to game readiness and is dealing with the swelling in the knee that comes along with coming back from surgery.
"It definitely feels good to get back on the field," White said. "I'm still a little rusty. Just trying to get back into form is the hardest part, just doing some ballwork here, running at home and trying to get in shape and trying to contribute."
U.S. U-20 GK TRAINS WITH CLUB
Tomas Gomez, a U.S. Under-20 national team goalkeeper, has been training with the club while third keeper Andrew Dykstra is on loan to the Charleston Battery.
Gomez, who grew up in the St. Louis area, has taken part in Tab Ramos' last two U-20 camps and is preparing for his sophomore season at Georgetown University. In the meantime, he's operating under Onstad's watchful eye while providing another body in training behind Bill Hamid and Joe Willis.
"It's nice to get a good look at him," Onstad said. "He's done very well. He's a young kid, just at the beginning of his career, so we'll see where he goes."