The Houston Dynamo took a commanding 3-1 lead in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Final. They'll head to RFK Stadium next week and face D.C. United once more for a chance to move on to the MLS Cup.
What a way to close out BBVA Compass Stadium. For the record setting 22,101 fans on hand - congratulations you were treated to an instant classic. It's no secret in Houston that we're spoiled. We haven't seen our beloved Dynamo lose since June of 2011. We watched a stadium built, broke in a new home in style, and now find ourselves in familiar territory - the playoffs. Our legend and captain Brian Ching (among other players) asked fans to pack the stadium - and we did. Back in March, we got a storybook beginning to BBVACS - and tonight we got the storybook ending.
First of all, I can't even go into a recap of the actual match without talking about the atmosphere leading up to it. With just three days to sell tickets, not only did the Dynamo front office do a tremendous job promoting ticket prices and packages, but fans did a tremendous job packing the house - there wasn't an empty seat issue on Sunday afternoon. Our supporters groups were incredibly loud the entire game, fans joined in various chants, and the crowd stayed electric the entire night.
Dynamo legend Craig Waibel fired off El Capitan after taking the field wearing a Brian Ching jersey and later was shown on the video board celebrating one of Houston's goals. It was a nice touch to the final home game of the 2012 season.
As for the match, well the first half can be summed up in just a few words - hard to watch. While Houston kicked off the opening moments with an offensive mindset, it was D.C. United who looked to be in control by halftime. Tally Hall stopped a dangerous shot from Lewis Neal in the 17' after rookie Nick DeLeon provided an excellent cross through the box. Neal was an early substitute for playmaker Chris Pontius, who was subbed out in the 12' due to aggravating a groin injury.
In the 27' DeLeon again was a catalyst for the black and red. DeLeon grabbed a loose ball after some Dynamo miscommunication and sent a through-ball to Lionard Pajoy who was able to get behind Bobby Boswell and Andre Hainault. Pajoy took a nicely angled shot around Hall, but it ricocheted off the post to the feet of DeLeon. The rookie's shot took a slight deflection off Hainault and ended up giving United the early lead. DeLeon, who was the hero against New York, celebrated in front of the travelling supporters who made the long trip from D.C. to Houston for the first leg.
Shortly before the half, Will Bruin and Macoumba Kandji had two consecutive shots on goal to try and level the game, but both were stopped by DCU. In the final seconds before the half, Andre Hainault and Raphael Augusto got wrapped up right outside the box and the DC bench pleaded for red card. From my angle, it didn't look like red card, let alone a foul. Referee Ricardo Salazar didn't call a foul on the play, and moments after the whistle DC assistant coach (and Dynamo legend) Pat Onstad was ejected for having a heated discussion with Salazar.
Upon further review of the play, it does appear that Hainault tied up Augusto's arm and tripped him up. The Professional Referees Organization general manager, Peter Walton, told MLS Soccer.com after the match it appeared to be a foul from his angle, but acknowledged Salazar did not have the same angle. Salazar thought it was two players coming together and not a foul.
That play will obviously be the topic of discussion during the upcoming week, but in the end - Salazar made the call based on what he could see. Like I mentioned, from my angle in the press box - it didn't look like a foul either. Moving on...
Now it's time for the "I wonder what the hell Dom said in the locker room" moment for Houston fans. From the opening moment of the second half, the Dynamo were clearly a different team. Just six minutes into the second half, Houston tied up the game in dramatic fashion - and it was none other than at the feet of Andre Hainault, who United felt should have been sent off in the first half. D.C. United was caught sleeping when Brad Davis took a free quick right away sending the ball to Boniek Garcia who was streaking into the box. Garcia placed a perfectly placed cross past Joe Willis and to the the feet of Hainault who sent the crowd into a frenzy with another clutch goal. Garcia and Davis were credited with an assist on the play.
D.C. United nearly took the lead again in the 66' when Nick DeLeon sent a nice pass to defender Robbie Russell who was able to maneuver past Mac Kandji and get position in the box. Russell drew Tally Hall towards the ball and tapped the ball to Pajoy who practically had an open net. Bobby Boswell was there to cover the net and able to head Pajoy's shot out of danger. Considering Houston had equalized the match, this was by far the game changing moment. Had the Dynamo went down 2-1, surely the outcome of tonight's game would have been different.
Immediately following the outstanding defensive play from Boswell, Houston pushed the ball forward and got the ball out wide to Giles Barnes - who was subbed in for an injured Adam Moffat in the first half. Barnes tapped the ball around Dejan Jakovic and was able to get a shot off, but Joe Willis got his hand on the ball. Unfortunately for Willis, Will Bruin was there to scoop up the rebound and knock it in for the go ahead goal.
In the words of NBC Sports announcer Arlo White (it sounded great with his English accent)...
"Persistence from Giles Barnes. Disappointment for Joe Willis."
The second half was all Houston, with D.C. United having little to nothing left in them. It wasn't an overly hot or humid night - at least I didn't think so. It continued on with the Dynamo looking for more blood and knowing a one goal lead may not be enough in D.C.
In the 80', Brad Davis lined up another Houston corner kick. Raphael Augusto didn't clear the ball properly, and Kofi Sarkodie collected the loose ball. He tapped the ball to Luiz Camargo, made a run into the box, and Camargo tapped the ball back to Sarkodie who buried a shot into the far post past Willis to put Houston up 3-1.
The game would wind down and finish 3-1, giving the Dynamo a two goal aggregate lead heading to the nation's capital. While United cannot (and will not) be underestimated, the Dynamo did everything the needed to put themselves in a great position to head back to the MLS Cup.
Injuries for both clubs will most likely dominate mid-week discussions. Chris Pontius, Adam Moffat, Marcelo Saragosa, and Brandon MacDonald all left Sunday's game with injury. Ricardo Clark, Jermaine Taylor, Calen Carr, and Dwayne De Rosario all missed the first leg with injury but could factor into the return match at RFK Stadium.
The Seattle Sounders continue to struggle in the MLS Cup Playoffs and were defeated by the LA Galaxy 3-0 later the same evening. Based on tonight's results, we could very well be looking at a rematch of the 2011 MLS Cup, aka the AEG Bowl. Of course, nothing is decided and it's not wise to look past November 18th - so we'll just wait and see.
Game Notes - Bruin becoming a star
- Last week, Will Bruin set a Houston Dynamo franchise record for most goals in a season with 15 (through all competitions). Brian Ching previously had the record in 2008 and 2006 with 14 goals. Bruin's goal tonight added to that - 16 and counting.
- Will Bruin now has 4 goals in the 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs. He's officially the scoring leader so far this year and the early vote for playoff MVP. Only a second year forward, this kid has potential to be something great.
- With Bruin's goal tonight, he set a Dynamo record for goals in a single postseason (4). Ching held the record with three goals in 2006. Ching holds the record for all time postseason goals (7) and Bruin now sits second on the all-time list with four.
- With the win, the Dynamo are now unbeaten in 30 consecutive home games (in all competitions).