In retrospect, it was obvious. Houston is so good playing with an aggregate lead in the playoffs and with DC missing Chris Pontius and a fully healthy Dwayne De Rosario, the task really was impossible. But it didn’t feel that way at RFK Stadium Sunday afternoon, as a crowd of over 20,000 (including 350 standing room attendees) rocked the stands at kickoff, trying to inspire the home team to victory. Despite the crowd and emotional return of the home team’s captain, the end result was a 1-1 draw and a 4-2 Dynamo win on aggregate.
DC adjusted its lineup without Pontius by starting Maicon Santos up top in a 4-4-2. Dominic Kinnear countered with his
4-4-3 4-3-3 with Jermaine Taylor returning in place of Andrew Hainault. Even in the early going, with the crowd spurring them on, DC struggled against a poised Dynamo defense that tried to create chances on the counter. DC’s best chance in the first half was a shot in the tenth minute by Chris Korb from 30 yards out that a diving Tally Hall was able to knock down and was cleared by his defense. DC had the most success on the left side with Nick DeLeon’s speed causing some issues, but for the most part DC had to settle for the occasional chance, but had issues sustaining constant pressure.
The Dyanmo sealed the game in the 34th minute, when Brad Davis’s run down the right side into the box scrambled the DC defense. The midfielder then found Oscar Boniek Garcia who planted the shot into the top of the net. The crowd was deflated, DC United was stunned, and the Dynamo had punched their ticket to MLS Cup.
A couple of moments in the second half gave the crowd some life (keeping in mind that even a deflated crowd was making noise throughout). In the 62nd minute, Dwayne DeRosario took the pitch in place of Emiliano Dudar, his first game action since he was injured September 11 on international duty. He looked rusty, as to be expected, but still made a few good plays to help spur DC. The second moment was Branko Boskovic’s goal in the 83rd minute, where the midfielder took it upon himself to make a run into the box, avoid a number of defenders, and slot a shot past Tally Hall. In the second half, DC had a number of quality chances and could have grabbed another goal early in the second half, but overall Houston’s defense was solid and smart.
After the game, Brad Davis commented on the Dynamo’s defensive structure: “It’s very important to keep your lines tight, make it difficult to play through the middle, and try to force things out wide… we talked about hard work, dedication, and commitment to the system that we play. It’s been successful over the years, so if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
Fans fearing a repeat of last year’s MLS Cup are selling the Dynamo short. Despite the same two teams facing off in the same venue, this is a much different Dynamo club. First, Brad Davis will be playing after missing the team’s two previous trips, and this team goes to another level when their distributor is on the pitch. The additions of Boniek Garcia (offense) and Ricardo Clark (defense) will help even out the midfield discrepancy that helped the Galaxy essentially dominate the game last year. Finally, an in-form Will Bruin – who was a little quiet on a night he was not essential – gives the Dynamo a scoring threat they certainly did not have last season.
The East will be well represented by a fifth seed that has consistently found the right combination for winning this postseason.