[MLS PLAYOFFS: Kansas City-Houston] The Houston Dynamo, which won the 2006 and 2007 MLS Cup as the Western Conference representative, took the Eastern Conference slot in this year's championship game by beating Sporting Kansas City, 2-0, Sunday. The Dynamo will face L.A. for the 2011 MLS crown.
Houston won its third straight playoff game, and second on the road, to reach MLS Cup thanks to second-half goals by Adrian Hainault and Carlo Costly.
NO DAVIS, NO PROBLEM. The departure because of a quadriceps injury in the 39th minute of playmaker and MVP candidate Brad Davis, who registered two playoff assists after leading the league with 16, didn’t deter the Dynamo.
To fill the hole at left mid, Coach Dominic Kinnear moved left back Corey Ashe – who played midfield most of his pro career before being moved back by Kinnear – upfield and brought in Jermaine Taylor to take over in the back line. In the absence of Davis, center mids Luiz Camargo and Adam Moffat took on more of the playmaking duties, and their service set up the Dynamo’s two goals in the 53rd and 87th minutes.
From a free kick on the right side of midfield, Moffat bent a serve deep to the back post that Taylor headed on goal from a sharp angle. Kansas City keeper Jimmy Nielsen saved it with his knee, but the rebound dropped in front of goal for Hainault to smack into the net. Hainault leads the team with two playoff goals after also netting against Philadelphia in the conference semis.
Camargo had set up a chance for Brian Ching with a cleverly scooped ball early in the match, and squandered an opportunity for a clinching goal two minutes after Hainault scored when Matt Besler’s sliding tackle thwarted him from point-blank range. With three minutes, he slid a through ball that split open the SKC back line for substitute Costly to dribble into the penalty area and drill it off the inside of the post.
STRONG AT HOME. SKC opened its new stadium, Livestrong Sporting Park, in June and lost only two home games while surging to win the Eastern Conference regular season title. Most of its games were sellouts or near-sellouts. SKC attracted a record crowd of 20,839 fans Sunday, just four days after drawing 18,565 for the second leg of its conference semifinal against Colorado.
Houston’s road record of 2-6-9 was among the worst in the league, and it played 15 straight road games without a win before beating FC Dallas and Portland at the end of the regular season. Then it beat Philadelphia, 2-1, at PPL Park in the first game of the conference semifinals. SKC hadn’t been shut out at home since it opened Livestrong with a 0-0 tie against Chicago June 9.
BRAVO BENCHED. SKC coach Peter Vermes elected to leave attacker Omar Bravo on the bench to start the match, and didn’t bring him in until the final minutes with SKC trailing, 1-0.
Bravo missed both legs of the conference semifinals series against Colorado with a strained abductor, yet SKC won, 4-0, on aggregate with Graham Zusi taking much of playmaking burden and delivering effective service on set plays.
Against Houston, Camargo and Moffat were able to quash much of what SKC tried to generate in midfield, which deprived the three-man front line of Kei Kamara, C.J. Sapong and Teal Bunbury of service. Balls lobbed into the box were repelled by the centerback pair of Bobby Boswell and Geoff Cameron, and outside backs Hainault, Ashe, and replacement Taylor kept the corners secure.
Though SKC took 13 shots to just six for Houston, much of its buildup play was sporadic and frantic, and only a couple of furious goalmouth scrambles stretched Dynamo keeper Tally Hall.
Vermes replaced Roger Espinoza with captain Davy Arnaud in the 75th minute, and seven minutes later switched out holding mid Julio Cesar with Jeferson. In the 85th minute, with his final sub, Vermes took out left back Seth Sinovic to insert Bravo, but two minutes later Costly scored to clinch the victory.
“We did everything to get ourselves in this position, but maybe just a little bit too young still with the group that we have.” Vermes said to mlssoccer.com.