Houston and D.C. both had concerns heading into the first leg of the Eastern Conference Final of the Major League Soccer playoffs. Houston had injuries to Calen Carr and Ricardo Clark, but a game plan that works. D.C. had Andy Najar and Bill Hamid out of the match for violations, but a lineup that said they were going for the victory. After a riveting rendition of the Star Spangled Banner on Veteran’s Day by Mary Sarah and a helicopter fly over, the match was on with D.C. looking to not suffer the same fate as Sporting KC when they returned home for the second leg last week.
Luis Camargo was asked by Dominc Kinnear to cover the midfield allowing the Dynamo to keep the 4-4-2 formation that seems to work wonders for Will Bruin up top. It was working early as Camargo made a good run in the first four minutes. The Dynamo had good early possession and seemed to be able to get back in force on the United
November 11, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; General view of BBVA Compass Stadium before a game between the Houston Dynamo and D.C. United. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE
counterattack. The first 15 minutes also included many fouls and physical play.
After a free kick by Chris Pontius it was clear he was in pain. Ben Olsen allowed him to play a couple more minutes, but he was unable to go on and Lewis Neal came on for Pontius in the 12th minute. This was just after a major collision between Robbie Russell and Adam Moffat. The initial sixth of this match showed the two legs would be a battle.
Kinnear changed some strategy attacking in a 4-3-3 and defending in a 4-4-2. He was trying to isolate on match ups across the pitch. However, the war of attrition continued as Adam Moffat was taken out minutes after the collision. Giles Barnes came in as neither team could find rhythm.
Almost out of nowhere, United would take the lead. The Dynamo were stretched as Bobby Boswell and Kofi Sarkodie were out of place allowing Lionard Pajoy to run under a ball down the left side. Pajoy slammed it off the far post from a difficult angle only to see Nick DeLeon run under it. His shot was going wide, but a deflection by Andre Hainault put it past Tally Hall.
The injury concerns continued for D.C. United as Marcelo Saragosa had to come out in the 41st minute. He would be replaced by Raphael Augusto making his MLS debut in a pretty important match. The pace slowed and injuries and fatigue became the main story line. Would D.C. be able to keep the lead having used two substitutions by halftime and somehow still being level on players with Houston after Hainault clearly pulled down Augusto without a foul call just prior to halftime?
The answer was no. Hainault would score off a quick free kick. United was caught sleeping as Boniek Garcia sent a
November 11, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis (11) advances the ball during the first half against the D.C. United at BBVA Compass Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE
low cross through to be slotted high. It was a gaff despite Houston taking quick free kicks all match long. Mac Kandji let it go through to a wide open Hainault. Now the momentum had switched.
Brandon McDonald would be the last United player subbed out as he came out gingerly in the 56th minute in favor of Emiliano Dudar. Houston had all of the possession although the next quality chance came from D.C. Robbie Russell made a great run down the right and got the ball in the box finding Pajoy alone. His shot to the far post found the head of Bobby Boswell, who was in the right place at the right time to clear it off the line. Russell would then be out of place as the Dynamo counterattacked. Barnes got into the box from persistence just as Russell had done but the save by Joe Willis went right to Will Bruin. Bruin tallied his fourth of the playoffs to put Houston up 2-1 in the 68th minute.
The strategy change seemed to make the United center backs defend on the flanks against the 4-3-3. However, the fatigue was just too much and the Dynamo took full control in the 81st minute as a corner was poorly cleared. Sarkodie worked a give and go with Camargo then slotted the ball far post on a firm finish. Augusto’s poor clearance ended in a dagger.
D.C. will need to regroup over the next week and hope their injuries heal. Despite the lack of a foul call on Hainault, the odds seemed stacked against United for this match as they still have yet to beat Houston on the Dynamo home turf. However, D.C. is unbeaten in 17 at home and Houston does not travel well. Regardless, the Western Conference winner has the upper hand at hosting MLS Cup. Houston did what it needed to do at BBVA Compass Stadium. Now all the pressure lies with Olsen’s club. The return match is November 18th at 4 pm EST.