Despite tying for first place, the Houston Dynamo were harshly eliminated from championship contention at the 2011 Generation adidas U-17 Cup on Thursday, with D.C. United advancing based on goal differential despite Houston's head-to-head win between the clubs. The Dynamo therefore finished second in Group A (which included three of the four semifinalists from last year) and will now try to finish fifth out of 16 teams, taking on Philadelphia Friday night. A win would put Houston into the fifth-place match, while a loss would send them to the seventh-place match.
Thursday's final two Group A matches were played with all four teams entering level with a 1-1 record and three points. D.C. United, however, had an advantage in goal differential since its lone outright win came by two goals.
Fittingly enough for a group with three well-known goalkeepers - San Jose's Kendall McIntosh and Houston's Fernando Pina from the U.S. U-17 national team and last year's championship game hero, Cody Niedermeier, for D.C. United - both matches finished tied and went to penalty kicks, which meant the Dynamo could not overcome D.C. in goal differential or San Jose in goals scored.
Nevertheless, after a scoreless tie with Columbus, the Dynamo won their shootout 4-3. Houston had to recover from an early miss to triumph on spot kicks from Alex Ochoa, Raymundo Marquez, Alan Arellano, and Lorenzo Salazar. In goal, Pina made two outstanding stops, giving him three saves on six penalty kicks in the tournament (he stopped a regulation PK against San Jose on Tuesday).
D.C. United will face FC Dallas in one semifinal, while Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy will square off in the other. The other teams to join Houston and Philadelphia in the top half of the standings are Toronto and New York.
One year after finishing tied for third, Houston will now try to close the tournament with two wins and equal its fifth-place finish from 2009. The majority of players at the tournament will feature for the Dynamo's U-18 squad next year, so their success in one of the tournament's toughest groups bodes well for the future.
The Dynamo's U-15 team, meanwhile, will play Seattle Saturday morning in its final group game and then play a placement match on Sunday morning in the eight-team tournament. Houston is 0-2 so far.