It was as advertised: Two big, bruising teams came into the Eastern Conference championship and pounded each other for 90 minutes, with the deciding goal coming off a set piece.
In the end, it was Houston's ability to bottle up the Sporting Kansas City midfield trio of Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza, and Júlio César that decided the match. SKC was never able to find clean switches, unable to create space, and could only push the tempo, not control it.
The Dynamo, meanwhile, managed to be patient all game long, carving out chances through direct play when the opportunities were there. They took few risks defensively and did an absolutely clinical job of protecting — and building — the lead once they had it.
Most importantly, they didn't collapse when their best player went down to an early injury. This was a triumph of both physical and mental toughness for Houston. Here are the player ratings:
Jimmy Nielsen (7) - Made a pair of early saves that kept Sporting in it, but got hung out to dry by his defense — first on a set piece, then on one of the multiple breakaways he faced — twice too often.
Chance Myers (6) - Worked from endline to endline for the full 90 minutes, putting in a solid and disciplined defensive shift. Wasn't able to create much going forward, however.
Aurélien Collin (3) - Caught on the wrong side of Andre Hainault on the first goal, then caught flat-footed on the second. Chose the wrong time to have his worst game since May.
Matt Besler (5) - Struggled early as he blew the trap twice, but settled down as the game went on. Pressed forward well, but had no real targets to distribute to, and no outlets.
Seth Sinovic (6) - His tricky dribbling created the first good look for Sporting, one of the few they had on the night. Like Myers, he put in a full shift on both sides of the ball, but couldn't find the telling pass.
Júlio César (4.5) - It was his turnover that led to Calen Carr's 1-on-1 with Nielsen. He won a lot of balls in the middle, but he was sloppy both in possession and in the tackle.
Graham Zusi (5) - He actually ended up doing more work defensively than he did in the attacking zone, which tells you just how much the Dynamo were able to frustrate the Sporting attack on the day.
Roger Espinoza (4) - Lost Jermaine Taylor at the back post for the first goal and had minimal impact going forward throughout. Defensively he did his usual hard work, but on Sunday, SKC needed more.
Kei Kamara (6) - One of the few out there for KC who was active and dangerous, giving Cory Ashe a torrid time in the first half. He didn't keep it up in the second, though.
C.J. Sapong (5.5) - His back-to-goal hold-up play looked nice except for the fact that it was happening 45 yards from goal on the flank. Hardly figured in the final third at all.
Teal Bunbury (5.5) - Was never dangerous, but did a good job of pressing the Houston central defensive pairing and nearly stole one before being outmuscled by Geoff Cameron.
Omar Bravo (6) - Came on for Sinovic in the 85th minute. Was active, and nearly created a late chance, but didn't have enough time or fitness.
Jéferson (6) - Came on for Júlio César in the 82nd minute. Spread the field well, and one has to suspect that would have helped earlier.
Davy Arnaud (5) - Came on for Espinoza in the 75th minute. Didn't have his legs under him, and was slow closing down Luiz Camargo on Carlo Costly's goal.
Peter Vermes (4.5) - Waited too long to make his subs, and should have swapped Sapong and Bunbury once it was clear how deep the Dynamo back line was playing.
Tally Hall (7.5) - Didn't have to lay out for any spectacular saves, but was incredibly brave on a scrum in the second half and decisive on everything played into the box.
Andre Hainault (8) - Early on was calm and composed both in distribution and defense, and when he got his chance to make a difference at the other end he took it. Can't ask for more.
Geoff Cameron (6.5) - Put a foot wrong just once when he nearly gifted a poor clearance to Bunbury, but immediately cleaned it up. Distribution was quality throughout.
Bobby Boswell (7.5) - KC had their best chances in the first 25 minutes, and four times Boswell was there to shut the door on them. Perhaps his best performance of the season.
Cory Ashe (6.5) - Worked the entire left side of the pitch and should have had an assist with his perfect cross to Camargo in the second half. Burned by Kamara twice early, but eventually rose to the occasion.
Danny Cruz (6) - Put in a very quiet 90 minutes on the offensive end, but his defensive work was a big reason the Sporting midfield couldn't show for the ball. Dogged and determined.
Adam Moffat (5.5) - Was overwhelmed physically a few times, and occasionally scattered his passes, but served in a perfect ball on the first goal and helped plug things up in the final 20 minutes.
Luiz Camargo (7.5) - Nearly a perfect game from the Brazilian, but we're docking him a point for blowing a one-on-none breakaway. His through ball to Costly for the second goal was sublime.
Brad Davis (6.5) - It looked like it would be a game-changing injury, but Houston pulled through. Davis put one on a platter for Carr early, and was repeatedly involved in the Dynamo’s quick attacks.
Calen Carr (5) - Was really, really good tactically, but blew a one-on-one with the 'keeper and was lucky not to be sent off for a second yellow card offense. His speed caused SKC problems, though.
Brian Ching (6.5) - Set the tone early with quick ball movement and smart runs into space, and should have gotten a hockey assist on Camargo's breakaway. Ran out of gas late.
Carlo Costly (8) - Came on for Ching in the 78th minute. The goal was exactly what you want to see from a big-name signing, and he did a good job of holding the ball when he had the chance.
Will Bruin (5.5) - Came on for Carr in the 67th minute. Didn't have much impact on the ball, but worked hard and kept the defense honest.
Jermaine Taylor (6) - Came on for Davis in the 39th minute. Smart back post run on the goal, but his distribution was iffy at times. No big complaints, though.
Dominic Kinnear (9) - Not only did he formulate a plan to stifle the potent KC attack, but he kept his team together and got them to perform better after Davis' injury. One of the truly great days in the career of one of the league's truly great coaches.