BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The playoffs seem to bring out the best in the Houston Dynamo.
A goal in each half by forward Will Bruin gave the Dynamo a 2-1 upset victory over the Chicago Fire in the Eastern Conference Knockout Round match at Toyota Park on Wednesday night. It was the first road win in more than three months for the reigning Eastern Conference champions.
The No. 5-seeded Dynamo advance to meet top-seeded Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference semifinals with the first leg to be played on Sunday afternoon at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston (BUY TICKETS).
Bruin's first goal came on a free near-post header in the 12th minute on a corner kick from teammate Brad Davis. Then just 19 seconds after halftime he got his brace on a blistering diagonal shot after he was sprung on the heels of a costly Chicago turnover.
Aside from a momentary flash of hope on Alex's 83rd minute goal for Chicago, the rest of the match was an exercise in game management by the Dynamo, who enjoyed the better possession and succeeded in thwarting Chicago's desire to launch quick counterattacks.
The match could have taken a very different turn in the 10th minute had Jalil Anibaba's curling left-footed shot from the top right corner of the Houston penalty area not finished wide of the far post. That was followed by a close range poke shot from Chicago's Alvaro Fernandez which was stuffed by charging Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall.
Just moments later, it was a slip by Anibaba that proved costly when he lost track of Bruin on a corner kick, and the second-year striker was free to bounce his header past Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
Apart from an Arne Friedrich header on an 18th minute set piece which was snagged by Hall, the Fire did little in the first half to preoccupy the Dynamo, who nearly made it 2-0 just before halftime on a corner kick header from a wide open Bobby Boswell.
Then when the Dynamo did go up 2-0 on Bruin's second goal after the break, it took the Fire a while to begin mounting any real pressure, bringing on ex-Dynamo forward Dominic Oduro, Daniel Paladini and Alex in an attempt to jumpstart the attack.
But the Dynamo back line plugged the holes and Hall came up big on a 74th minute curling shot from Chicago's Patrick Nyarko.
Alex found a seam on a penetrating run down the left side of the Dynamo box in the 83rd minute and his diagonal shot gave the home team some real hope, but they failed to muster a final threat to equalize as Houston march on.
It was a disappointing end to the season for the Fire, who just a month ago were in position to seize first place in the East. Wednesday night's loss marked their fourth setback in their final six competitive matches to close out their 2012 campaign.
Chicago Fire (17-11-6, 0-1-0) vs. Houston Dynamo (14-9-11, 1-0-0)
MLS Cup playoffs Knockout Round
October 31, 2012 – Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.
HOU: Will Bruin 1 (Brad Davis 1) 12
HOU: Will Bruin 2 (Calen Carr 1) 46
CHI: Alex 1 (Patrick Nyarko 1) 83
Houston Dynamo: Tally Hall; Kofi Sarkodie, Jermaine Taylor, Bobby Boswell, Corey Ashe; Boniek Garcia, Adam Moffat, Ricardo Clark, Brad Davis; Calen Carr (Macoumba Kandji 78), Will Bruin (Brian Ching 78)
Substitutes not used: Tyler Deric, Andre Hainault, Cam Weaver, Luiz Camargo, Giles Barnes
Chicago Fire: Sean Johnson, Jalil Anibaba (Daniel Paladini 75), Arne Friedrich, Austin Berry, Gonzalo Segares; Alvaro Fernandez, Pavel Pardo (Dominic Oduro 60), Logan Pause (Alex 45), Patrick Nyarko; Chris Rolfe; Sherjill MacDonald
Substitutes not used: Paolo Tornaghi, Dan Gargan, Michael Videira, Wells Thompson
HOU: Brad Davis (caution) 67
HOU: Tally Hall (caution) 91
Referee: Baldomero Toledo
Referee's Assistants: Frank Anderson, Ian Anderson
4th Official: Juan Guzman