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Houston keeps repeat quest alive
by Ridge Mahoney, November 5th, 2007 7AM

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The elimination of Chivas USA, which tied Kansas City, 0-0, at Home Depot Center to lose its series, 1-0 on aggregate, means both regular-season conference champions are out of the playoffs. D.C. United having been ousted by Chicago on Thursday. Second-place finishers Houston - which is aiming to become MLS's first repeat champ since D.C. United won the league's first two championships in 1996 and 1997 -- and New England advanced by winning their home legs, 4-1 and 1-0, respectively over shorthanded opposition.

By Ridge Mahoney

FINALES. Chicago heads to New England for the Eastern Conference final Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Houston hosts Kansas City Saturday in the Western Conference final at 8:30 p.m. ET on Fox Soccer Channel and HDNet.

ROLE REVERSAL. Chivas USA forward Maykel Galindo, who missed the first leg with an abdominal strain, answered the bell but couldn't land a knockout punch as his team struggled to a 0-0 tie with Kansas City that left it a goal short.

The Wizards, which had conceded 45 goals in the regular season and posted just four shutouts, recorded their third straight shutout - including a 2-0 defeat of FC Dallas that clinched a playoff spot in its final game -- to knock off a team that had led the league with 14 whitewashings.

Chivas USA came close several times. Galindo hit the post, Shavar Thomas headed a corner kick on frame that Kurt Morsink headed clear, and substitute John Cunliffe hit the frame in stoppage time. He'd hit the crossbar minutes after coming on as a sub in the first leg.

But more than bad luck thwarted Chivas USA. Defenders Jimmy Conrad and Nick Garcia repelled numerous crosses, outside backs Michael Harrington and Jack Jewsbury defended tenaciously, midfielder Kerry Zavagnin broke up several attacks, and keeper Kevin Hartman conjured up images of his Galaxy days at HDC with a few big saves.

Chivas USA coach Preki paired Galindo with Ramon Nunez and despite a 16-8 edge in shots, Kansas City held out. After Hartman stopped a long drive by Paulo Nagamura, Nunez hit another long-range effort that was turned aside. Francisco Mendoza latched onto a ball after Jewsbury unpended Sacha Kljestan but Hartman saved again.

Cunliffe angled to the near post and looped his header well clear of Hartman, but the ball struck the upright just under the crossbar and bounced clear. A minute later came the final whistle.

Kansas City, which finished tied with Chicago in the final playoff spots with 40 points by beating Dallas on the final day, duplicated the Fire's feat of knocking off Eastern Conference champion D.C. United. Of the three rookie head coaches to reach the playoffs, the only one to survive the first round is Wizards man Curt Onalfo.

DPs-V-TT. Claudio Reyna hobbled off early, Juan Pablo Angel got clocked accidentally, by Jay Heaps' knee, and while Angel was on the sideline recovering, Taylor Twellman scored the only goal of the match. Any questions?

New England defended stubbornly and blanked Red Bull New York for the second straight game to win the second leg, 1-0, at Gillette Stadium and advance by the same score on aggregate.

Reyna left the game with a tender right hamstring in the 26th minute and unfortunately, replacement Clint Mathis proved to be a willing but somewhat inefficient offensive catalyst. He ducked past Avery John to shoot into the side netting and hit a close-range shot right to keeper Matt Reis, who turned it over the crossbar.

Four minutes before Heaps' knee thudded into his jaw, Angel tested Reis with a header the keeper dove to push aside. After Angel and Heaps jumped for a high ball, Angel tumbled onto Heaps' knee and he hit the ground in a daze. Upon being revived on the sidelined, he implored the medical staff to let him back into the game but was refused and before New York could make a change, New England scored.

Shalrie Joseph sliced open the Red Bull defense with a through ball that Steve Ralston ran into the penalty area before squaring a pass to his left. Twellman hit it low but not that hard. Scrambling keeper Jon Conway got a hand to it but the spinning ball kept rolling and trickled over the line.

John Wolyniec replaced Angel but couldn't strike up much of a partnership with Jozy Altidore.A final flurry in stoppage time, with crosses and clearances pinging in and out of the Revs penalty area, ended when Reis' save on Mathis resulted in a corner kick New York couldn't exploit.

DALLAS DOWNED. The Ghost of Chris Gbandi returned just in time to scuttle the playoff hopes of FC Dallas in the first round yet again.
Gbandi, sent off in the conference semifinals against Colorado last year, this time stayed on the field, but a red card to teammate Arturo Alvarez left FCD a man short and unable to withstand furious Dynamo pressure in the second half and in overtime.

Brian Ching scored twice for Houston and Brad Davis drilled a wicked free kick to conclude the scoring in a 4-1 Dynamo romp that gave it a 4-2 edge on aggregate.

Dallas led, 1-0, from the first leg and doubled that lead in the 14th minute when Kenny Cooper headed down a Bobby Rhine cross and Carlos Ruiz slammed it into the net for his 16th playoff goal in 17 matches. Yes, you read that right.

By that time, keeper Dario Sala had already been bundled into the net trying to save a disallowed goal, saved a Brian Mullan shot, and stopped another from Dwayne DeRosario on a rebound of his own shot off the crossbar. Soon afterward, Sala had to come off with a painful right knee, and Ray Burse replaced him.

Early in the second half, Davis and Alvarez went for a ball in the corner and as they faced up to each other, Alvarez appeared to knee Davis in the groin. Television replays weren't conclusive but referee Richard Heron pulled out the red card immediately as Davis gasped on the ground.

Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear went to his bench, bringing on Stuart Holden for defender Craig Waibel and soon thereafter putting on Joseph Ngwenya for Nate Jaqua. Jaqua had won numerous high balls to little effect; with a man advantage, the quickness off Ngwenya and Holden ran Dallas off its feet.

Holden equalized on a play similar to Dallas's goal, with Ching knocking down the ball for Holden to first-time into the net. Ching scored five minutes later when Ngwenya guided a ball into his path but Houston couldn't get the decisive third goal in regulation, which ended with the teams tied, 2-2, on aggregate.

Dallas had no legs for overtime and were two more goals in arrears 10 minutes into the extra session. Five minutes in, Davis hit the crossbar, and two minutes later Ngwenya again steered the ball to Ching for his second goal. At the 100-minute mark, a foul on Ngwenya offered Davis a chance, and his rising blast cleared Burse and zipped into the top corner.

Rhine drilled a shot that Houston keeper Pat Onstad touched over the bar and Houston rode out the final minutes as FCD was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the sixth straight time.

Conference Semifinals, 2nd Leg

Nov. 2 in Houston
Houston 4 FC Dallas 1.
(OT) (Houston wins, 4-2, on aggregate)
Goals: Holden (Ching, Cochrane) 67, Ching (Ngwenya, De Rosario) 72, Ching (Ngwenya) 97, Davis 100; Ruiz (Cooper, Rhine) 14.
Houston - Onstad, Waibel (Holden, 48), Cochrane, Robinson, Barrett, Mullan, De Rosario, Mulrooney, Davis, Jaqua (Ngwenya, 61), Ching.
FC Dallas - Sala (Burse, 25), Yi, Moor, Serioux (Oduro, 80), Gbandi, Alvarez, Denilson (Ricchetti, 50), Rhine, Toja, Cooper, Ruiz.
Yellow Cards: Houston - Mulrooney 28, Robinson 40, Onstad 98, De Rosario 109; FC Dallas - Sala 24, Denilson 39, Gbandi 44, Serioux 78, Moor 99, Ricchetti 120.
Red Cards: FC Dallas - Alvarez 47, Moor 119.
Referee: Baldomero Toledo.
Att.: 30,088.

Nov. 3 in Foxboro, Mass.
New England 1 New York 0.
(New England wins 1-0 on aggregate.)
Goal: Twellman (Ralston, Joseph) 64.
New England - Reis, Heaps, Parkhurst, John, Joseph, Thompson (Riley, 84), Ralston, Larentowicz, Smith, Twellman, Noonan (Cristman, 75).
New York - Conway, Freeman, Parke, Stammler, van den Bergh, Richards, Kovalenko, Reyna (Mathis, 26), Vide (Ubiparipovic, 77), Altidore, Angel (Wolyniec, 64).
Yellow Cards: New England - Joseph 31, Thompson 50, Smith 73, Twellman 80; New York - Vide 34.
Referee: Abiodun Okulaja.
Att.: 10,116.

Nov. 3 in Carson, Calif.
Chivas USA 0 Kansas City 0.
(Kansas City wins 1-0 on aggregate.)
Chivas USA - Guzan, Vaughn, Suarez, Bornstein, Thomas, Mendoza (Hamilton, 81), Marsch, Nagamura, Kljestan, Galindo, Nunez (Cunliffe, 74).
Kansas City - Hartman, Jewsbury, Conrad, Garcia, Harrington, Arnaud, Morsink, Zavagnin (Watson, 94+), Victorine (Pore, 67), Johnson, Sealy (Burciaga Jr., 82).
Yellow Cards: Chivas USA - Marsch 19, Mendoza 53, Nunez 62, Bornstein 89; Kansas City - Johnson 65.
Referee: Mark Geiger.
Att.: 19,711.

Nov. 1 in Washington, D.C.
D.C. United 2 Chicago 2.
(Chicago wins 3-2 on aggregate.)
Goals: Simms (Dyachenko, Gomez) 69, Gomez (Dyachenko) 74; Barrett (Carr) 31,?Rolfe (Blanco, Carr) 33.
D.C. United - Perkins, Namoff, Boswell (McTavish, 59), Vanney, Burch (Dyachenko, 41), Olsen, Gomez, Simms, Fred, Emilio (Addlery, 65), Moreno.
Chicago - Pickens, Brown, Segares, Robinson, Rolfe, Armas, Blanco (Franks, 88), Pause, Conde, Barrett (Soumare, 58), Carr (Gutierrez, 78).
Yellow Cards: D.C. United - McTavish 61, Perkins 63; Chicago - Segares 54, Pickens 93+.
Red Card: D.C. United - Dyachenko 94+.
Referee: Jair Marrufo.
Att.: 19,438.



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