Going into the final game of the year (and Dominic Kinnear's career in Houston), the Dynamo would have liked to go out on a high note. A tortuous slog through the year lit with glimmers of playoff hopes (and their subsequent snuffing) left the Dynamo and their fans wanting nothing more than to end this season and move on to the next, even as uncertain it may seem right now. Unfortunately, Dynamo fans were still to experience one last crushing moment.
On a night of farewells for Dom and Chicago's 11-year MLS veteran Logan Pause, the Dynamo were forced to contend with their 27th different lineup of the year after losing Luis Garrido to suspension. Servando Carrasco took his ninth start for the missing Honduran while Jermaine Taylor, in a somewhat unexpected lineup move, took over left back duties for the ailing DaMarcus Beasley. Still aiming for full health, Will Bruin did not start in lieu of the Giles Barnes-Omar Cummings tandem.
Throughout the first half, Dom's move to keep Omar Cumings up top definitely seemed to pay off. The 32-year old speedy striker was consistently threatening on counter attacks, playing the role of provider and target forward. Cummings was able to exploit a Chicago backline that gradually lost shape as the half progressed, sending in balls for Giles Barnes and Brad Davis who both saw shots deflected by the stubborn goalkeeping of Sean Johnson.
Finally, in the 16th minute, following a very threatening and physical run from Barnes that resulted in a corner, Davis would send in a ball that glanced off Cummings and into the corner of the net. Cummings, who was able to peel off his defender and skillfully torque the ball while moving away from goal, registered his third of the year and lent the Dynamo an early lead.
The goal didn't seem to swing momentum very heavily as Chicago continued to find ways to cut into the Dynamo box fairly easily. Repeatedly, the Fire's Quincy Amarikwa found spots to challenge Deric and the Dynamo defense. For several minutes, the work of Amarikwa, Matt Watson, and rookie Harry Shipp sent the Houston backline scrambling and just barely getting deflections.
Eventually, the Fire began to show frustration at the physicality of the match (the first half tallied 15 fouls between the teams) and became flustered with the Dynamo attack. A wild exchange in the 34th minute found Barnes moving around a clever Davis distraction (trying to return from an offside position) to send a shot in from close range that Johnson would parry back into the box. After deflections from both teams, Boniek Garcia's near-goal and AJ Cochran's following unmarked header attempt would leave the Fire reeling.
This was apparent as the Fire continued to deal with the Dynamo attack and lost defensive shape, culminating in a head clash between defender Jeff Larentowicz and Pause who contended against one another to clear a Kofi Sarkodie cross in the 42nd minute.
The second half proved to be rather less fluid as tired legs and waning motivations lent to both teams being unable to find the longer bouts of possession from the first half. Chicago would prove to be more threatening throughout the last 45, particularly Amarikwa's threatening play within the box and 19-year old Grant Ward's huge offensive contributions. These two players would help control the ball over the final ten minutes and be instrumental to Chicago taking over control.
In the 64th, amidst several minutes of dominant Fire play, a looping ball over the top found the feet of Grant Ward who was able to get inside Jermaine Taylor toward the top of the box. Deric came out to meet Ward and the resulting collision left the ball unattended inside the 18. A sliding Deric reached back for the ball but instead clipped Ward which was blown for a penalty. Escaping a yellow card, the Dynamo keeper was unable to stop a calm Larentowicz penalty and Chicago equalized.
With only a few real chances in the second half, the Dynamo's attack had become blunted. Bruin was eventually inserted for Carrasco but unable to start decent runs among a crowded 3-man forward corps. Multiple dead-balls sent in by Davis could be found clearing through the lines without a foot or head coming close to contact. The only other real chance came from the run-of-play in the 73' following clever play between Houston's starting forwards. Cummings eventually would send in a beautifully arced ball that Barnes would meet along with Lovell Palmer's elbow. The ball was easily saved and after a brief moment, Barnes returned to his feet seemingly unphased.
Following Logan Pause's emotional final sub, the Dynamo would insert Tony Cascio, giving him his first minutes since April 23rd. Unfortunately, Cascio's absence did not appear easy to overcome as his touch and pace were lacking and unable to help an already lackadaisical Dynamo.
From there, the final ten minutes seemed to unfold true to the Dynamo's season-long form. An 82nd minute pass falling to the edge of the box found a wandering Deric handling right outside the 18-yard mark, earning a yellow and conceding a close-range free kick that was ultimately blocked.
Despite the continuing physical play and frantic clearances of Chicago flurries, the Dynamo seemed as if they might be able to steal a point and end on a somewhat bitter note. The Fire's Robert Earnshaw made sure to sour it. Following a quick dart from Grant Ward to get around Andrew Driver, the looped in cross glanced off Earnshaw's head to the near post in the 91st minute and gave the Fire an impressive comeback victory to send Pause off on a win.
With the season finally (thankfully) wrapped up, the Dynamo now look toward 2015 and search for answers. A new technical director and head coach are definitely at the top of the list, but Houston will have to begin making difficult decisions with a looming expansion draft on the horizon. The coming months should prove to be quite possibly the busiest offseason in Dynamo history and the team we see next March may be very different than the one we say goodbye to today.
A final personal note: One last thank you to Sebastian Salazar, who was part of the broadcast team tonight in Chicago. Salazar, who manned the sidelines and studio throughout the year for CSN-Houston is now off to better things and I'd like to acknowledge him for his incredible work over the last few years and amidst a difficult Dynamo season. His work locally will be missed but I look forward to seeing him on future broadcasts (and hope one of those might bring him back to town)!