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Dynamo finish off Union to reach Eastern Conference final

BrianChing (Getty)


Coming into the second leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal clash with the Philadelphia Union, the Houston Dynamo knew all they needed to do to advance was to keep a clean sheet.

They did that and more Thursday night, as Brian Ching got on the end of yet another Brad Davis free kick and the Dynamo defended brilliantly to seal a 1-0 win and a spot in the Eastern Conference final.

In the team's final game at Robertson Stadium before moving to a brand-new facility next year, the Dynamo shut down a Union team that came out with numerous attacking options to begin the game. Jack McInerney, Sebastien Le Toux, Veljko Paunovic, and Danny Mwanga all started for Philadelphia in yet another new-look formation.

While the Union came out strong, Houston took Philly's early momentum away with strong defensive play led by Defender of the Year candidate Geoff Cameron. The Union were unable to find an early equalizer that would have given them momentum.

Instead, it was Houston who broke the deadlock with the last play of the first half when Brad Davis sent in a perfect cross from a free kick during added time. Brian Ching rose above the Union defense and headed it past goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon to give the Dynamo a massive aggregate lead at the half, which would prove too much to handle in the end.

"That's what you aim for," Ching said. "It was a great performance from the guys tonight, another shutout. Hopefully we can continue playing well and make it to the final."

The Union were forced to throw everything forward in the second half. Peter Nowak made a triple substitution in the 67th minute, bringing on Freddy Adu, Justin Mapp, and Roger Torres in a desperate attempt to get his team back in the game.

Houston held strong, though, clogging the passing lanes and holding onto the ball as long as they could when able. The 3-1 aggregate deficit would prove insurmountable for Philadelphia.

Once again, Brad Davis left an undeniable mark on the game and continued to strengthen his case for this year's MVP award. His trademark free kicks accounted for two of his team's three goals throughout the series, including the only goal Thursday.

"It comes down to delivery," said Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear. If you don't have a guy who can deliver the ball, you get nowhere. The delivery from Brad (Davis) was excellent, and Brian (Ching) got a pretty good run into the box.

"It wasn't just that," Kinnear said. "There were a couple other times that we were dangerous, so you have to give Brad credit for putting the ball in the right spots, but you also have to give the guys credit for making determined runs."

Houston advances to a conference final for the first time since 2009, when they fell to the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Western Conference championship game. The Dynamo have now qualified to a conference final in four of the last six years.

For Philadelphia, the loss is disappointing, especially considering their inability to deal with Houston's set pieces, which was a clear strength for the Dynamo heading into the series. But their sophomore campaign ends in much more successful fashion than last year's, having finishing in second-to-last place in the East during their inaugural 2010 season.

"I think there are a lot of things to be proud of," said coach Peter Nowak. "I told them in the locker room that maybe it wasn't our year. Things need to be corrected, and we have a whole preseason to do it."

The Dynamo will now travel to Livestrong Sporting Park to face Kansas City in the Eastern Conference Final. Houston's last loss, ironically, was to Sporting Kansas City, all the way back on September 10.

"Kansas City is an extremely tough team," Ching said. "They are playing some great stuff right now and are one of the best teams in the league. They are also playing at home, which can be extremely difficult for us.

"Having said that, we are a team that is on a roll, a team that defensively seemed to find our rhythm, and we are scoring goals too," Ching said. "We are going to continue this run, and I would love to see this team make it to the final."


  1. Ching is getting older and he’s never been fast, but he is a very good hold-up forward — great vision, an excellent passer, and strong in the air.

  2. Chill, dude. As of next year, there will only be one team playing with football lines (and it won’t be the Dynamo). The game wasn’t as exciting as you’d like it to be because it was a two-leg series, which meant the Dynamo just needed to shut down Philly and not concede. They killed off the game (and series) after the first goal. It may be boring, but that’s how you win championships. I assure you the Hou-KC match won’t be as boring.

    As for Philly’s issues…well, that’s their problem, not MLS’s. And it happens in every league. Teams just don’t show up sometimes.

  3. I agree that Cameron should be on the National team. He is a little unorthodox, it think this keep him out but he has that special “it” that the team needs.

  4. adu was awful when he got in. Guy showed no hustle and doesn’t command the ball. Does he have a ton of talent, sure. Does that make you a great player, no.

  5. Additionally, I understand counter-arguments may be the Dynamo didn’t have anyone better than Cameron in the midfield until Camargo arrived. However, it was apparent the entire season that whatever combination the Dynamo played in center defense was a liability because of their lack of speed and that cost the Dynamo a lot of points.

    There is a lot of talk about where are Omar Gonzalez or George John for the national team. Cameron is better than both of them and why he was played out of position for almost two full years was ridiculous.

  6. One of the biggest criticisms of Dom was his refusal to move Cameron to center back and as it turns out, the Dynamo defense is significantly better with Cameron in the back.

  7. Novak’s lineup was awful. You have to include your best 11 in a game like that and regardless of the formation that includes Mapp, Torres and Adu. Why wait until that late in the game? Absurd and bad managing. For the most part the Union appeared uninspired, or is it just a complete lack of skill? (How do they play like they did against Everton and then show up to a game like this?) The MLS looked awful for playing on a painted football field and the game as a whole lacked any sort of a appeal, especially for such an important playoff game. This is exactly what made me not enjoy the MLS until Philly had a team and doesn’t help when pleading w/ casual fans that the MLS is improving and worth watching. This proved the complete opposite. Luckily FSC has finally arrived in HD and I can enjoy quality soccer. F the MLS for a show like this and for having the second game on at 11:00pm. GET A CLUE for F’s sake. STEP IT UP. If the league wants to be taken seriously situations like this CAN NOT exist…until next season. DOOP

  8. And Dom was getting his fair share of grief mid season too. Then *bam* a few solid roster moves (which built upon a solid off season) and we are in the eastern finals. Look at the starting 11 in May compared to now. Nice.

  9. Two observations: #1) I don’t understand why Nowak just doesn’t play his best 11 players. His lineups a very peculiar. #2) Houston may be playing the best soccer in MLS right now (and over the last 8 games or so). I guess we will find out. I would love to see a Houston/RSL final. I think Houston is very possible but I have my doubts about RSL’s ability to beat LA. Let me throw a third observation in: #3) Perhaps they need to start working on a statue of Dom Kinnear at their new stadium.

  10. I’ve said it before and will say it again. Brian Ching is one of the most under-appreciated American strikers of his generation. He was the difference in this series. Philly needs a better passer/orchestrator in the midfield. Too many poor passes in pressure this season. A Benny Feilhaber type mid would pair well with Carrol/okugo with Torres/Farfan Seba Adu/Mwanga and Mapp to round out the starting offense. Back four is gelling well and only needs depth players. Knowing McMath can get it done if Mondragon gets hurt is great as well.Good lessons for a second year team, but certain things happened that were Nowak’s call and he should know better.


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