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The Houston Dynamo let a winnable game slip away with poor finishing and now sit uneasily in the final playoff spot with Columbus just two points back. Now they'll rely on help from other teams to secure a playoff position with just two games remaining.
We've said this before, and it's fitting to use again. Saturday night's draw felt like a loss. With Houston holding on to the final Eastern Conference playoff position by a single point, the objective against Montreal was to get a win. While the Dynamo played like the better team for the majority of the game, poor finishing and one defensive mistake on a counterattack left the players and fans with a shocking 1-1 draw.
Montreal came into the game with a win on their mind, so naturally they wouldn't be an easy team to defeat. Although it was the slightest of chances, Montreal knew a draw or loss would mathematically eliminate them from the playoff race. The Impact pressured early and nearly got on the board in the 15' minute when midfielder Sanna Nyassi was given a perfectly placed through ball on goal. Nyassi only had Tally Hall to beat, but couldn't get the shot past Hall and a second attempt was deflected by Jermaine Taylor, allowing Hall to secure the loose ball.
Just minutes later, Houston had one of their best chances on the night when Boniek Garcia sent in a quickly taken free kick. Macoumba Kandji was unmarked in the box and sent in a header on goal, but Troy Perkins was in perfect position to deflect it out.
While both teams were fighting for possession and control of the game throughout the rest of the first half, it appeared the game would go into the halfway point scoreless. In the 44', Corey Ashe pushed up the left side, finding a streaking Calen Carr. Carr maneuvered his way into the box and sent a sliding pass to the foot of Will Bruin who redirected it perfectly past Perkins giving Houston the 1-0 lead at the half.
The goal gave Bruin his 12th of the year, one shy of Brian Ching's 2008 team record. It also marked only the third goal of the year for Bruin when the Dynamo are lined up in a 4-3-3 formation.
With the Impact knowing they need a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, the second half became increasingly more dangerous for Houston with just a one goal lead.
Houston continued to look for some room to breathe, but Troy Perkins came up big on several occasions for Montreal. In the 60', Kandji was gifted a pass from an Impact defender, only to have Perkins get a touch on the shot, sending off the post and out for a corner. Perkins made five saves on the night.
Just moments later, Montreal got their chance to strike back on a quick counter attack. Marco Di Vaio chested a ball down, looked up and sent a perfect pass to Nyassi. Nyassi's first touch got him behind Bobby Boswell and in on goal. Hall blocked the first attempt, but the rebound fell to Nyassi's feet and he tapped it in to quiet the near sell out crowd (21,178) at BBVA Compass Stadium.
The Nyassi goal was a heart breaker, but Houston pressed for the winning goal in the final moments. Brian Ching and Cam Weaver were late subs that once again made a huge impact on the final moments of the game. In the 84', Ching fed Weaver on an open goal, but his shot was denied by the crossbar to keep the score level. Then, in the final minute of stoppage time, both teams exchanged what they hoped to be game winning goals. Nyassi sent a shot by Hall first, but the offside flag was up prior to the goal. Then seconds later, Brian Ching got behind the Impact defense and chipped the ball over Perkins while the offside flag remained down. The crowd erupted as Ching and teammates celebrated in front of the supporter's section and thought the late heroics salvaged all three points. Referee Chris Penso meanwhile was discussing the play with his assistant referee, and quickly and correctly ruled the goal offside and the match ended even 1-1.
So what does all this mean for the Dynamo? Well, with just two regular season games left on the season, we no longer control our destiny 100%. Today's matchup between East leading Sporting Kansas City and Columbus is a big one. Both teams will be going for the three points with SKC still in the Supporter's Shield race and Columbus is hoping to grab the final playoff spot.
One thing is for certain, the Eastern Conference playoff race is tighter than ever and will probably go down to the final week of the season. SKC (58 points), Chicago (56), D.C. United (54), New York (53), Houston (50), and Columbus (48) are all still in the running and could just about finish in any order at this point. After tonight's Sporting KC and Columbus matchup, all teams involved will sit at 32 games played and will all have two left on the season.
Overall, the Dynamo didn't play bad in this game. They just didn't finish their chances; something that seems to be a growing issue. While Boniek Garcia was all over the field and was my man of the match for Houston, Brad Davis' absence was surely felt. I'm just not sold on continuing to use the 4-3-3 and personally would have like to see us start in a 4-4-2 formation with Colin Clark filling in for Davis and Ching up front with Bruin. Maybe it's just me, but Ching going for 55-65 minutes, and subbing in Cam Weaver would've been a dangerous offensive combination.
Next up for Houston is their final home game of the season against the Philadelphia Union. This is a Union team that will be looking to play spoiler just like they did on 9/23 when they beat the Dynamo 3-1. This game instantly becomes a must win at this point, with their final game being on the road in Colorado.
It's safe to say, before looking ahead to the final two matches, all eyes will be on the Sporting Kansas City and Columbus Crew match tonight. Dominic Kinnear spoke for not only the team, but the fans as well in his post game press conference. "Quietly, we're all Kansas City fans right now," he said with a grin.