Whether it beat or tied Real Salt Lake Monday, the Houston Dynamo went into that match knowing that nothing less than a victory Sunday can earn the Western Conference crown.
In this case, four points from a tie and a win doesn't equal
four points from a win and a tie.
By beating RSL, 1-0, Houston - which trailed conference
leader Chivas USA by four points at kickoff -- shaved all but one point
from that lead and will claim the conference title by winning at Home
Depot Center, which no Chivas opponent had been able to do until
Colorado did it last Sunday.
Had the Dynamo tied RSL, a win against Chivas USA would leave the teams
as co-leaders with 52 points, but having already won the season series,
Houston would take the conference title on the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Now that it has beaten RSL, if Sunday's game ends in a tie,
Houston will remain one point behind Chivas USA, which would win the
conference with 53 points to the Dynamo's 52.
In MLS, if nowhere else, one plus three doesn't always equal
three plus one.
Missing the suspended Ricardo
Clark, the Dynamo (15-8-6) left Dwayne DeRosario and
out of the lineup yet still had enough firepower to get the goal it
needed and defensive resilience to fend off numerous RSL attacks. Stuart Holden scored
in the 66th minute when his cross grazed the gloves of Nick Rimando as
the goalie backpedaled furiously to reach the dipping ball.
Minutes earlier, a superb reflex save had denied Holden. His sharp
header from a Brian
Mullan cross caught Rimando scrambling against the grain,
yet still the keeper stabbed out his left glove to turn the shot away.
Late in the first half, Mullan had drilled a shot off the crossbar.
RSL gave effort, guile and pluck. What it didn't get was luck
in the attacking third.
hit the post after Alecko
Eskandarian had pounced on a Houston miscue, and twice Kyle Beckerman
drove shots certain to beat Pat
Onstad, only to watch Wade
Barrett and Richard
Mulrooney bail out their goalie with clearances.
The victory came with a cost, however. Defender Eddie Robinson, who
was just one caution short of his third suspension, instead got sent
off for tripping Beckerman -- or so referee Tim Weyland ruled -
just outside the penalty area. He will miss the Sunday showdown at HDC.
Two minutes later, Mulrooney cleared away Beckerman's low
shot, and two minutes after that, the teams were level at 10 men apiece.
Onstad edged in front of Movsisyan to punch away a high ball and as the
players cleared the area and Movsisyan approached him, Onstad leaned
his shoulder toward the RSL forward, who shoved the keeper with both
arms. Onstad went down and bounced back up, players from both teams
swarmed in, and Weyland brandished the red card yet again.
RSL outshot Houston 14-9 but lost out to the whims of fortune. In the
final home MLS game for veteran defender Eddie Pope, RSL
(5-15-9) had done its best to play spoiler.
It can reprise that role to the fullest Saturday at Colorado, which can
only qualify for the playoffs by winning and getting a few breaks with
other results. It might be RSL due for a good bounce this time.
Oct. 15 in Salt Lake City
Real Salt Lake 0 Houston
1. Goal: Holden (Mulrooney) 66.
Real Salt Lake -
Rimando, Wingert, Kirby (Espindola, 79), Pope,
Kotschau, Sturgis, Talley, Williams (Beckerman, 46), Brown (Watson,
46), Movsisyan, Eskandarian.
Onstad, Waibel, Cochrane, Robinson, Barrett, Mullan, Holden, Mulrooney,
Davis (Ianni, 75), Jaqua, Ngwenya (Ashe, 78).
Real Salt Lake - Williams 42, Movsisyan 45; Houston - Cochrane 43.
Real Salt Lake - Movsisyan 77; Houston - Robinson 73.