Closing the season at D.C. United proved a boon for Houston, though as they’ve done throughout their campaign, the Dynamo found a way make things hard on themselves. But after a goal-laden first half gave way to a second half stalemate, Houston is back in the post season, their 2-1 win at RFK Stadium clinching their playoff spot.
After an 11th minute opener from Boniek Garcia, Houston conceded an equalizer to Kyle Porter. Gilles Barnes’s goal before intermission, however, gave the Dynamo a lead they’d never relinquish. After their 14th win of the year, Houston’s still alive for a third straight MLS Cup final appearance.
The victory temporarily vaults Houston third in the East, though where they’ll end up in the East’s pecking order depends on the day’s next two games. New England’s visit to Columbus and Chicago’s trip to New York give the Revolution and Fire a chance to pass the Dynamo, meaning Houston can still finish as low as fifth – the spot from which they started last year’s Cup final run.
On Saturday, Houston was the better side for much of the first half, their early forays at Bill Hamid’s goal eventually producing a penalty kick when Barnes was dragged down by James Riley. Garcia’s 11th minute conversion gave the favorites an early lead.
That advantage would prove short-lived, though. Just before the half-hour mark, D.C. broke out of their own half and played Luis Silva wide against a narrow defense trying to manage the transition. The midfielder’s ball toward the line was run onto by Chris Pontius, whose cross toward the right post allowed Porter to head home the equalizer.
Eleven minutes later, Brad Davis’s corner picked out Barnes on a near-post run, the attacker’s far post flick going into the far side netting for the eventual game-winner. With United electing to put a man at the near post while leaving the far post unprotected, Barnes found a seam through the goal mouth’s chaos, heading home his ninth career MLS goal.
Much of the second half was played to a stalemate, though with Houston becoming more defensive as the match wore on, D.C. was given chances to steal a draw. Focusing attacks on the left side of Houston’s defense, United were able to make inroads toward the Dynamo line, though their forays back across the box proved fruitless. The hosts would end the match with only two shots on goal, a late (weak) hand ball appeal their best chance to claim an equalizer.
When full-time blew, the day’s favorites were in the playoffs, but as was the case throughout the season, Houston didn’t get there without a series of doubts. Though their attack produced the goals they needed, it never found the score that would ice the match. Much of that was due to Houston’s posture, electing to protect instead of pursue, but as D.C. United broke down the left side of Houston’s defense, it wasn’t hard to imagine a more efficient attack making the Dynamo pay for their caution. Perhaps Graham Zusi and Thierry Henry won’t be as forgiving a struggling Dwayne De Rosario.
They’re in the playoffs, but Houston still has work to do. The last two years they’ve shown an ability to rise to the postseason’s occasion, but this year, something feels different. The defense seems weaker; the attack, less efficient; their talented midfield unable to lock opponents down like Ricardo Clark and Adam Moffat did last season.
Still dangerous, Houston’s not on the same level as Kansas City and New York, and although they’re now in the postseason, the Dynamo have less than a week to figure out how to bridge the gap.