The MLS NEXT Pro playoffs are here and Houston Dynamo 2 traveled to the Pacific Northwest to take on Tacoma Defiance in the Western Conference semifinal. The boys were looking for a better result, after the first time they were up there to Washington, they came out with a defeat.
A chippy, tough, and contested playoff match was expected and that's how the first half started. Some key players were missing for Houston. Talen Maples, who earlier in the week was named to the MLS NEXT Pro XI, was unavailable. Goalkeeper Xavier Valdez was away with the Dominican Republic youth national team and Juan Castilla was with the Colombian U20s.
The Dynamo started with Mujeeb Murana, Ethan Bartlow (the first team player covering for Maples), Micael and Jathan Juarez in the back, while Michael Nelson watched over the goal. In the midfield the trio of Paulo Lima, Marcelo Palomino, and Brooklyn Raines got the start. The top three were Beto Avila, Jacob Evans and Isaiah LeFlore.
Beto Avila would make his presence known early on by stealing the ball in the middle and making a quick run, firing a shot which the Tacoma goalkeeper Wallis Lapsley would control. In the next few minutes, Lapsley wasn't going to have the same luck.
After a great run down the sideline in the 40th minute by Jathan Juarez, he threw on the hand brake to drop it back to Evans. From 30 yards out, Evans blasted a ball that turned out to be extremely dangerous and difficult for the Tacoma goalkeeper. Lapsley wasn't able to handle it and the rebound fell to a striker hungry AND thirsty for goals. Beto “el Spiderman” Avila was able to tap the ball in, not giving Lapsley a chance for a second touch.
A few minutes later, from a dead ball, the Dynamo almost surprised Tacoma for a second time. This time Lapsley was able to find the ball between a sea of legs trying to tap the ball in. As the first half was coming to an end, Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez found a nice volley with his left foot. Michael Nelson was able to control the shot and not give a rebound to the forward that was looking to crash the party heading to halftime.
The second half started early for DynaDos as Murana made a nice run down the right and dropped the ball off momentarily to Avila. He returned it back to him a second later and whipped a gorgeous cross to the first post. Evans beat his defender with his run and headed the ball past the goalkeeper. It was a beautiful cross and even better finish. Dynamo 2 would go up 2-0 in minute 49.
JACOB EVANS ARE YOU SERIOUS— Houston Dynamo 2 (@houstondynamo2) September 26, 2022
UP BY TWO IN TACOMA! pic.twitter.com/lnXZ0JnR05
In minute 64, Kyle Edwards would come in for an injured Beto Avila and Diego Gonzalez would take the spot of Brooklyn Raines. The 68th minute brought the first dangerous play for Tacoma in the second half. After a giveaway in the midfield, Tacoma attacked with numbers and Nelson made a great save, even as the play got called off for an offside. In return the Dynamo had a run and shot by Edwards, and from the ensuing corner a header from Ethan Bartlow forced another save.
In minute 80, as Tacoma kept pushing for a goal, a cross came across the box which dropped to the penalty spot. Ocampo-Chavez was there and tried an acrobatic move to get a shot off. Bartlow was able to come across and headed out for a corner kick. Very good defensive work by the guys in orange continued one as the game slowly ticked away.
In the 83rd minute, Travian Sousa played a one-two with Sota Kitahara and found himself inside the box with a clear chance at goal. Micael came across with his body and sent Sousa flying, giving Tacoma a penalty kick. Marlon Vargas converted for a goal and gave Defiance a glimpse of hope with seven minutes plus added time left to fight for an equalizer.
In the 85th minute, as the Dynamo looked to close out the game, they brought on Diego Rosas and Danny Rios for Evans and LeFlore. Tacoma continued to push towards Nelson’s goal. In the 88th minute, Nelson sent a free kick away that looked very tricky and dangerous, keeping the Dynamo in front as Defiance continued to throw the whole kitchen sink into the box of DynaDos.
In the 90th minute, another shot was deflected for a corner as the Dynamo suffered to hold on in the last minutes. Kithara got a header on the corner and forced another save for Nelson. In the 92nd minute a foul was called again Dynamo 2 as Juarez had a slight push from the back, and gave Tacoma another penalty kick. Vargas took this one as well and he tried to panenka Nelson, but hit the cross bar. The Dynamo got a breather and Tacoma seemed to be somewhat defeated, but a lucky cross that Paulo Lima tried , in the 93th minute unfortunately found the back of his own net to send the game into extra time.
Marcelo Palomino, in minute 94, tried to curl one to the back post but had no luck. In return, in minute 96, Vargas got a shot off outside the 18 but Nelson was able to control the shot. Both teams looked to get ahead in this extra time with multiple chances.
The second half of extra time saw both teams continuing to push to avoid penalty kicks. In minute 112, Nelson made another save to keep the game tied at two. Seconds later, Edwards would look for a foul in the box as he tussled with the defender to get a shot off but nothing was given by the ref. Paolo Rios would check in for an injured Jathan Juarez in minute 117, Juarez left everything on the pitch. The push for victory would continue for both teams as time ticked away. A long ball from Rios found Edwards inside the box after a nice run by Kyle, and his shot was very well blocked by the goalkeeper going to the near post to deny the Dynamo’s last opportunity of the game.
Tacoma made all five of their kicks from the spot and Paulo Lima was unable to convert, as he slipped on his shot, which proved to be the difference. The victory went to the Tacoma Defiance with a comeback from a 2-0 deficit and a 5-4 win from penalty kicks. Tacoma moves on to the Western Conference Final against St. Louis City 2.
It was a heck of an inaugural season for Dynamo Dos. They gave soccer people something great to support and something great to be proud of. Interim head coach Daniel Roberts spoke after the game about takeaways from this first season. “Lots. Lots,” Roberts said after the match. “You know, it’s something that we’ve needed at the Club for quite a few years, probably since its inception. So now to have it on site, I think it’s only going to serve for the betterment of our young players coming through. In terms of the season and what the boys accomplished, they have to take all the credit. It’s been it’s been it’s been an unbelievable year, and one that unfortunately hasn’t ended like we would have liked but one that they can they can really, really use as they move forward in their careers because given everything. They’ve applied themselves, they’ve implemented everything that we’ve asked, and again, we couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Defender Ethan Bartlow and goalkeeper Michael Nelson also spoke after the match about the takeaways from Dynamo 2’s inaugural season. “I think this team did so well this year in terms of everything, honestly,” Bartlow said. “They played some good soccer, they found ways to win playing ugly soccer, and there’s a brotherhood here. Everyone was willing to fight for each other, and so I think that speaks volumes about the character of this group.” Nelson added his thoughts as well in the postgame. “Yeah, I think the togetherness in the group is amazing,” the goalkeeper said. “It’s a group of guys that that really, really care about each other on and off the field. I think a lot of teams strive for that and want to have that, but it’s something that you can’t necessarily force and it’s something that develops organically, and this is a group that definitely has that. There’s something special there. And I think you know just the way that they all support one another, the guys that are playing and the guys aren’t playing and their mentality and approach to training. The time I’ve been able to spend with them, I’ve been just super impressed with that. And so I think the disappointment is going to sting, for sure, but they have a lot of things that are trending positively for sure.”
We are very proud as well to be covering a group of fighters and young men that we hope to see one day making everyone happy in the first team of this Houston Dynamo organization. Houston Dynamo 2 has given Houston some hope for the future of this football city. Thank you to the players and staff for a heck of a season and we are very excited for what the future holds in our pipeline. VAMOS LOS PIBES!!!!