Brian Ching knows, perhaps better than any other member of the Houston Dynamo, what it takes to get a big goal when the club needs it most.
In the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal against the Philadelphia Union on Thursday night, Ching struck the lone goal to give Houston the win and seal passage to the conference final for the fourth time in six years. In the final reckoning, the Dynamo beat the Union 3-1 on aggregate and now move on to face Sporting Kansas City on Sunday at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.
In a game that lacked as many quality chances as the first leg, it was a familiar script that resulted in Ching’s goal and Houston’s win. As first-half stoppage time ticked away, Houston’s Brad Davis whipped in a cross from the left side that was met by an on-rushing Ching, who angled his header in at the far post. It was Ching’s first goal for the Dynamo since August 20, and the eighth playoff strike of his 10-year career, second among active players.
Houston coach Dominic Kinnear stuck with the same starting 11 that earned the victory in Philadelphia, while Union manager Peter Nowak came out in a revamped lineup. Nowak inserted teenage striker Jack McInerney and recently recovered midfielder Veljko Paunovic for Justin Mapp and Stefani Miglioranzi. Neither, however, were able to put their stamp on the match, other than a decent shot from Paunovic in the 59th minute that Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall dove to his left to save.
Instead, a predictably rough-and-tumble second leg played into Houston’s hands, as wingers Davis and Danny Cruz attacked the Philadelphia outside backs and earned numerous set-piece opportunities — the bread and butter of Houston’s attack.
In the 66th minute, the Union made a rare triple substitution, bringing on Mapp, Freddy Adu, and Roger Torres. The changes provided a spark for the Union attack, and Adu had a good look at goal, but his half-cross, half-shot sailed past the far post.
The loss ends a relatively successful sophomore season for the Union. The club finished third in the Eastern Conference and made its debut playoff appearance. Houston now travels north to face Sporting on Sunday in the Eastern Conference championship game with a berth in MLS Cup on the line. The Dynamo will bring with them an eight-game unbeaten streak that includes six wins.
The Dynamo's last loss? A 3-0 defeat on September 10 at none other than LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.
Philadelphia Union vs. Houston Dynamo
November 03, 2011 -- Robertson Stadium, Houston, TX
Eastern Conference semifinals -- Game 2
HOU -- Brian Ching 1 (Brad Davis 2) 48+
Philadelphia Union -- Faryd Mondragon, Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Gabriel Farfan (Roger Torres 66), Sebastien Le Toux, Brian Carroll, Veljko Paunovic (Freddy Adu 66), Michael Farfan, Danny Mwanga (Justin Mapp 66), Jack McInerney.
Substitutes Not Used: Zac MacMath, Stefani Miglioranzi, Kyle Nakazawa, Amobi Okugo.
Houston Dynamo -- Tally Hall, Andre Hainault, Bobby Boswell, Geoff Cameron, Corey Ashe, Danny Cruz (Je-Vaughn Watson 57), Luiz Camargo, Adam Moffat, Brad Davis, Brian Ching (Carlo Costly 81), Calen Carr (Will Bruin 91+).
Substitutes Not Used: Tyler Deric, Alex Dixon, Hunter Freeman, Jermaine Taylor.
PHI -- Carlos Valdes (caution; Reckless Tackle) 30
PHI -- Gabriel Farfan (caution; Reckless Foul) 51
HOU -- Calen Carr (caution; Reckless Foul) 67
Referee: Ricardo Salazar
Referee's Assistants: Craig Lowry; Peter Manikowski
4th Official: Edvin Jurisevic