Calen Carr’s inclusion in Houston’s starting XI wasn’t a huge surprise, but it forced a moment’s pause. Carr was the more reliable choice, you might euphemistically say, but his inclusion also pushed Mac Kandji to the bench. Choosing to start without one of his few potential game-changers, head coach Dominic Kinnear selected a team better equipped to take advantage of the Chicago’s errors than create opportunities of their own.
No surprise, it proved the right approach. When Will Bruin put Houston ahead in the 12th minute, we were reminded that Kinnear’s not only been here before, he’s also very good at navigating the postseason, especially on the road. As the Sporting News’ Brian Straus reminded us, Houston’s won three road playoff games over the last two postseasons despite only five regular season wins away from home. If Kinnear was chosing to play conservatively against Chicago, there was probably a good reason for it.
When Bruin broke away from Jalil Anibaba on Brad Davis’s early corner, Kinnear’s plan paid off. Not only did his team have its early lead, but he’d taken very few risks to obtain it, and with Carr in the game, Kinnear was playing the 11 men best equipped to preserve the advantage.
When another Chicago error gifted Bruin a second moments after halftime, Houston had their winning goal. Chicago did mount a late charge – Alex scoring in the 83rd minute to halve Houston’s lead – but it was too late. The Dynamo had executed Kinnear’s plan to perfection. They played smart, waited for their chances, and extended their season by at least another week.
In that respect, it was a bad night for Sporting Kansas City as well as Chicago. Though the Fire are a talented team, they’re missing the element that’s made Houston so successful. Dominic Kinnear pushed the right buttons tonight, just as he did during last year’s run to the MLC Cup final. And he’s likely to keep pressing the right buttons against Kansas City.