Say what you will about the Major League Soccer playoff format, and I have – many times – but it makes for a fascinating stretch run at times, with Wednesday night a prime example. The Dynamo may have had this mid-week date off, but their fortunes rose and fell throughout the evening as six other teams – all foes in the playoff race in some respect – battled tooth and nail.
The Dynamo entered the night rooting for Chivas USA (against D.C. United), Real Salt Lake (against New York), and San Jose (against Portland) – an odd triumvirate given the Dynamo’s five years in the Western Conference.
I started the night fairly out-of-touch with the games, but when I arrived at KHOU to work on the taping of Dynamo Weekly, I got updates that D.C. United was up 2-1 on Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake was already hammering New York 3-0. I immediately started discussing with Matt Musil how important it was for D.C. United to not win and talking with Glenn Davis about how San Jose didn’t have a chance on the road against Portland.
I got a fist bump from head coach Dominic Kinnear when he arrived, since we both knew that Chivas USA had tied its game 2-2. But as we prepared for the show, the drama kicked into high gear.
D.C. United was awarded what seemed a questionable penalty kick – its ninth of the year to tie for the team lead. Up stepped Dwayne De Rosario. A former Dynamo star to stick it to his old team. A clutch player. De Ro doesn’t miss penalty kicks. (At least not often.) So I figured D.C. would get the win and move to within two points of the Dynamo.
But one of the guys in the control room watching the game came up with, “Kennedy’s going to save this,” and sure enough, Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy dove to his left and made one of the biggest saves of the Dynamo’s season.
I ran back out to the studio, past Musil and Davis preparing to tape the show, and found Kinnear watching on a different screen as the match ended in a tie. One result down, two to go.
New York’s loss to Real Salt Lake, keeping the Red Bulls a game behind Houston in the standings, seemed like a mere formality due to the 3-0 halftime score, but New York almost got back in the game, with a shot that almost crossed the goal line and a terrific goal from Joel Lindpere. Nevertheless, that result held, continuing the Dynamo’s good fortune.
After taping the show, we all went our separate ways, all planning to watch at least some of the Portland-San Jose match on Matchday Live. This was a biggie. Portland trailed the Dynamo by only three points with two games in hand, and it would be nice to have some sort of cushion heading into JELD-WEN Field on October 14.
Somehow I was not at all surprised to see Kenny Cooper awkwardly finish a Darlington Nagbe cross to give Portland a 1-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game. I texted, “That didn’t take long,” to a friend, and got the response, “Blowout.”
Boy, were we wrong. San Jose’s Jon Busch made a sensational save on a Nagbe one-timer a few minutes later, and San Jose dominated first-half possession despite the terrific atmosphere in Portland. (I know it’s a cliché by now, but I can’t wait to call a game in that place.)
To add to the night’s twists, Chris Wondolowski and Mike Chabala – teammates on Dynamo Reserves squads from 2006-08 – were competing against each other as starters in a game that affected the Dynamo first team.
For San Jose, Wondo and Khari Stephenson and the very impressive Simon Dawkins were a handful for Portland, as they were for the Dynamo on Saturday. They finally struck in the 70th minute when Stephenson – languishing on my fantasy team’s bench, of course – struck a long-range shot that rolled just inside the post to tie the game. It was a huge goal and the second-biggest play of the night for the Dynamo.
The closing minutes gave me plenty of nervous moments – Troy Perkins saving a Wondolowski header, Eric Brunner just missing a golden chance at the near post, Ramiro Corrales unable to strike cleanly on a couple of chances – but finally Michael Kennedy whistled for full-time at 11:30 p.m. here in Houston, and a crazy night of scoreboard-watching had come to an end.
The results were as good as one could have hoped for from a Houston perspective: two ties and one win, earned by a team that was almost out of reach anyway. Not a bad night.
The Dynamo will keep an eye on the scoreboard again on Friday, when Kansas City and Philadelphia square off, but their real focus will be on Saturday’s encounter against a suddenly reeling FC Dallas. Still in control of their own destiny, the Dynamo are looking forward to making opposing fans squirm over the final four games.