Houston Dynamo return to Western Conference Final: Don't count us out!


Houston Dynamo FC have spent the year defying expectations and now find themselves in the Western Conference Final following Sunday's 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City at Shell Energy Stadium.

Few outside the club thought the Dynamo would be among the last teams standing, 90 minutes from competing in MLS Cup presented by Audi on Dec. 9.

This journey has even surpassed internal expectations after last year's 13th-place finish in the Western Conference (25th of 28 teams overall).

“We didn't set out this year to be in this position. It just wasn't necessarily in the cards,” head coach Ben Olsen, hired in November 2022, said in his post-match press conference.

“It would have been nice, but it was in the cards to be in the playoffs and be in the postseason, put ourselves in this situation to again, maybe be in this position.”

Been there, done that

One of the keys to the turnaround, both on the field and in the locker room, was a culture change that accompanied 17 new signings. Olsen said that comes with bringing in established winners, which the club's front office stressed in the offseason.

“With each goal that we got, whether it's the Open Cup or playoffs, you just turn the page and these guys want more. They have a nice spirit about them and as it's a new team, I say it again, we have a lot of winners in there,” Olsen said.

“We have a lot of guys that have been around the block and have trophies at home and rings, so they've been in these scenarios [where] these moments aren't too big for them.”

One of those players is Franco Escobar, who scored the insurance goal for Atlanta United in a 2-0 win over Portland Timbers to win MLS Cup 2018. He also won a second MLS Cup last year with LAFC.

The Argentine defender scored the lone goal on Sunday, latching onto Héctor Herrera's corner kick to power home a headed finish in the 39th minute. That proved pivotal in Houston reaching the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2017.

“We used him in the back for most of the year to deal with transition moments because he's such a good defender,” Olsen said of the free-agent signing. “But we're now putting him in there [on attacking set pieces] and tonight it was nice for him to get the goal. I thought he played very well.”

Underdog again

Even before knowing they'd visit defending champions LAFC in Saturday's Western Conference Final (9:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass), Olsen predicted the Dynamo would be underdogs. The role has suited them well throughout the season and now into the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs as well.

“I think we're used to that. All year we've been kind of that dark horse and even when we get compliments, they hurt sometimes – it's like a backhanded compliment. We hear that stuff and it's good,” Olsen said.

“We're still in that space where we're trying to prove to everyone that we're real, and this helps. This helps. I think this puts us on the map a little bit more. And now it's about two games away. And I don't think the money's going to be on us away … but that's okay. We can live with that. We've punched above our weight and hopefully we can do it another time here next week.”

Can Houston add another trophy to their cabinet after raising the US Open Cup title in late September over Inter Miami CF?

"It’ll be very, very difficult. But as I said before, I wouldn't count us out," Olsen remarked.