Houston Dynamo 3 : 1 DC United
Houston’s remarkable run to a second successive MLS Cup Final continued unabated today in South Texas with an impressive come from behind win.
DC United’s Nick DeLeon scored for the second play-off match running in the first half after both sides’ preparations were disrupted by forced first half substitutions.
However second half goals from Andrew Hainault, Will Bruin and Kofie Sarkodie turned things round for the Dynamo who now have played DC nine times in Houston without defeat.
Dynamo would travel to the final regardless of whether they met Seattle or Los Angeles under the seeding rules introduced by MLS this year.
Last year, the venue had been predetermined to be Los Angeles even before the Galaxy reached the final. A repeat of that fixture is now a distinct possibility.
Two early injuries shaped the game. DC captain and forward Chris Pontius left with a groin strain in the 11th minute.
While Englishman Lewis Neal was replacing him, Houston’s Adam Moffat was receiving treatment in a separate incident with DC’s Robbie Russell. Ricardo Clark and Caleb Carr were absent for his side with injury so it was especially fortunate for Houston coach Dominic Kinnear that his compatriot Moffat was able to initially continue.
The substitute Neal became the first to test either keeper with a 16th minute effort which stung Tally Hall’s knuckles but did not pass him after DeLeon’s cross evaded the inrushing defenders.
Moffat did not last however. Giles Barnes became the second Englishman to enter the game from the bench in the 24th minute. Houston now had a largely creative midfield engine with Barnes and Luis Camargo more attacking minded. That lack of a defensive edge was to cost them shortly after.
United found Houston’s rearguard in total disarray and took full advantage.
Lionard Pajoy hit the post with a drive after DeLeon fed him up the left hand side. The rebound fell to DeLeon who had continued his run. He rattled the ball into the Houston net via a deflection.
United were the better side through to half time. Their Montenegrin forward Boskovic hit the side netting and his keeper Joe Wills was not called into action until the 38th minute when he pawed away a Macoumba Kandji effort.
United were forced into a second change in the first half, Brazilian Rafael Augusto entering for his compatriot Saragosa five minutes before half time.
The home side cut a real break, the decisive break, just before the interval in what many in the DC camp will see as the turning point of the match.
Houston’s Canadian defender Hainault seemed to bring down Augusto as both chased in on the Dynamo goal. Had Ricardo Salazar awarded a free kick, then Hainault may have been sent off.
Referee supremo Peter Walton however told match commentator Arlo White that the proximity of another defender meant that the situation did not amount to a Denial of a Goal Scoring Opportunity, and a yellow would have been the correct card even if Salazar had called for a foul.
Many will doubt that interpretation on seeing the incident for the first time. In the end, not even a foul was awarded.
“That incident? We’ll move on,” said DC coach Ben Olsen seconds later during the interval, admirably refusing to hold a self-pity party. Former Dynamo legend and now DC goalkeeper coach Pat Onstad was not so sanguine, earning a red card for his arguing.
Houston leveled six minutes after the break. Hainault turned in a Boniek lateral cross after a quick free kick had released the latter as United slept. Kandji whiffed at it and the ball fell conveniently to Hainault who gleefully hammered home.
On a high now, Barnes tried from long range for Houston while United looked rattled. More woe followed for DC coach Ben Olsen.
They suffered a third injury in the space of 43 minutes when centre back Brandon McDonald was forced off.
Emiliano Dudar replaced him as Dejan Jakovic’s partner. The Australian also had to move to right centre half to accommodate Dudar’s preference for left.
With United reeling, Houston had over half an hour to secure a decisive advantage to take to the nation’s capital, more of a necessity when one considered they finished the season with just one win in 16 away games.
But it was DC who came close in the 66th minute. Bobby Boswell was forced to head off the line from Pajoy’s shot with Tally Hall beaten. Robbie Russell, still eyeing his second MLS title in four years, was the provider with a superb run and cross from the right back slot. Russell was still stranded upfield when the next defining moment happened shortly after as Boswell’s intervention proved to be crucial.
Seconds later, at the other end, Bruin scored Houston’s go ahead goal. Barnes made significant progress up Houston’s left beating Jakovic comprehensively. His cross was palmed out by Joe Willis. It fell straight into Bruin’s stride and he poked the ball agonisingly slowly over the line.
Kandji was booked for timewasting at a throw in and then idiotically threw the ball down in a tantrum. Salazar would have been justified in showing him a second yellow but common sense if not the letter of the law prevailed.
Willis saved United again 13 minutes from time after Sarkodie controlled a bouncing ball better than anyone but with their players visibly tiring and all their substitutes used, United were looking to hold the deficit at one rather than equalizing. A scramble in their six yard box separated two Houston corners.
From the second of those, United finally caved in. Augusto swang and missed at a clearance and the ball was intelligently fed to the right back Sarkodie who this time gave Willis little chance for a 3-1 Dynamo lead nine minutes from time.
Brian Ching and Warren Creavalle were introduced late for Brad Davis and Will Bruin, more signifying Kinnear’s search for a fourth than any desire to run down the clock.
United are unbeaten in 17 home matches and with the Dynamo’s appalling away record, this match is far from over. Houston may have scored three goals in tonight’s second half, but there is a whole new second half to come.
United got the worst of the one controversial refereeing call and of the injury bug losing three men before an hour, removing any hope Olsen had of alterations or alleviating tired limbs.
Should the luck swing back their way, this tie could become very interesting very fast next week.