By PABLO MAURER
WASHINGTON – The Houston Dynamo booked their spot in the MLS playoffs this afternoon, clinching a spot in the east with a 2-1 victory at RFK stadium. The victory could put Houston through as the #3 seed, and (for now) out of MLS’ dreaded play-in game, which would allow them some much needed rest before entering in the conference semi-finals. They’ll await the results of this afternoon’s other Eastern Conference matches to determine their ultimate fate.
“I think at the end here, everyone has gotten relatively healthy and we’ve had a bigger squad to pick from,” remarked Houston head coach Dom Kinnear outside the Dynamo locker room. “Our team, like others, have had problems with qualifiers, injuries, so I think when he had that bad patch in the second third of the season, we were missing a lot of guys and were just a little bit inconsistent with our lineup. Now the last little bit we’ve been a little more consistent with our lineup and the results kind of show that we have a good team.”
On the other side of things, D.C. United’s nightmarish season came to a merciful end, the team laying claim to several more all-time MLS worsts. All-told, United set or tied records in 2013 for fewest wins, lowest goals per game average, worst goal differential, fewest road wins and most road losses. For fans and players alike, the campaign’s end is more a relief than anything else, a feeling that United head coach Ben Olsen reflected on at his post-game press conference.
“Absolutely [I’m relieved]. As for next year, goals would help. Guys that can provide the last pass would help. [We have to] get more athletic, get better service on set pieces, shore up our back line even more. You name it, we could get better at it.”
A back and forth first half saw both teams create chances, the Dynamo making the better of theirs.
Houston were handed an early lead when James Riley brought down Giles Barnes in the box in the game’s opening minutes. Boniek Garcia stepped to the spot and struck a blistering PK to Bill Hamid’s right; Hamid guessed correctly but could do nothing as the ball sailed past his outstretched fingertips.
United had their share of chances as well, and equalized in the 28th minute. Chris Pontius used pace and a bit of guile to assist on the second goal, making a crafty run down the left flank before crossing to a poorly marked Kyle Porter. The Canadian international nodded it home, tying the match and giving him a share of the team lead in goals – with three.
The draw would be short-lived. Brad Davis swung a corner kick in towards the area, and Giles Barnes managed to shake both James Riley and Luis Silva, powering the header home and putting the Dynamo up for good.
“We were a little outmatched physically.” Olsen lamented after the match. “We put some guys in some spots they weren’t used to. But overall, it’s still the same old us. Good stuff, good quality, good build-up, just not enough killers in front of goals or not enough guys with the final play, the final savvy to pull of a few goals.”
D.C. and Houston ground through a far more uneventful second half, both teams trading half-chances, Houston seemingly content to fall back and defend a one-goal lead against the most offensively anemic team in the league.
In the end, it would be the Dynamo who marched on to the MLS playoffs, and D.C. who marched into the wrong end of the record books. Of all of the players who were asked to reflect on United’s lackluster campaign, Hamid was the one, perhaps, who summed it up most appropriately:
Here are the game highlights: