By GARRETT DAVEY
When Brad Davis was carried off the field late in the first half of Sunday's Eastern Conference Final, it felt like the Houston Dynamo's chances of going to the MLS Cup Final were being carried off with him.
The Dynamo didn't see it that way, and instead of folding without their team MVP (and arguably the MLS MVP), Houston stood strong defensively and capitalized on two second-half chances to knock off Sporting Kansas City.
Goals from Andre Hainault and Carlo Costly, coupled with some outstanding team defending, helped Houston post a 2-0 victory at LiveStrong Sporting Park on Sunday.
“I’m happy for the guys first and foremost,” Houston coach Dom Kinnear said. “I think three months ago a lot of people didn’t really take us seriously, and this is definitely a big statement to everyone that did that things can happen when things go well for you.”
Kinnear did a masterful job adjusting his squad after losing Davis to injury. Every move he made paid off, from inserting defender Jermaine Taylor, to bringing on Costly as a second-half sub to help put the match out of reach.
Hainault opened the scoring in the 53rd minute, capitalizing on a poorly defended free kick. Adam Moffat sent the long free kick into the box, Jermaine Taylor kept it alive and Hainault found himself with nothing to do but tap the ball in for a goal.
“All I know is it went back post,” Hainault said. “Jermaine did well, stuck with it, put it across goal and I found it.”
The second dynamo goal came from the run of play in the 87th minute. Luis Carmargo put a perfect ball in behind the Sporting defense for Carlo Costly who blew by Aurelien Collin to finish calmly against only the keeper. Collin was caught napping on the goal as the Sporting defense was pushed far up the field in search of an equalizer.
In the first half, Houston looked the better team for large stretches, winning the midfield battle and having the better chances on goal. The loss of Davis to a quad injury looked like an opportunity for Kansas City to capitalize on the absence of one of Houston’s top players. Instead, it was the Dynamo who continued to control the game.
“It was a big blow,” Kinnear said of Davis’ injury. “He’s a big part of what we do in set pieces and in the run of play, but the move ended up working out for us because I thought Kei Kamara was having a good first half and I thought putting Jermaine (Taylor) over there would hopefully quiet that down.”
Part of Houston’s success came from capitalizing on Sporting’s disorganization, which Peter Vermes attributed to youthful exuberance. “In the first half we got too much into this run and gun game,” Vermes said. “We wanted to play a little bit more disciplined in our game. Recognize the moments when we could go counter and recognize the moments we needed to build the game up and keep possession and I thought we were just too direct in the first half.”
Houston’s win came on the back of an excellent defensive display and a commanding performance from Dynamo keeper Tally Hall. “It’s hard to lose a game when you don’t get scored on and recently I believe the defensive unit has been rock solid,” Hall said of the defensive performance.
After the first goal, Houston were well organized in putting men behind the ball and waiting to hit Kansas City on the counter.
“You go 1-0 up in an Eastern conference final like that it’s really easy to sit back and we did,” Hainault said of his teams strategy, “But then we got another chance right after, we didn’t get it but we stayed calm and stuck with it.
"Carlos came on and got the second and we continued to do the little things. The little things will bring you a reward in the end.”
It was a great season for Sporting, who couldn’t have imagined playing for the Eastern conference championship after the first ten weeks. Houston awaits the winner of the Western conference championship between Los Angeles and Salt Lake. The MLS Cup final is November 20 at the Home Depot Center in LA.