In a match between two quality teams, the outcome often hinges on one or two single plays. That one play went against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
In a 1-0 loss at Real Salt Lake, Houston’s fortunes were ultimately decided by a penalty kick that came on foul committed by Dynamo midfielder Adam Moffat when he made contact with an airborne Olmes Garcia in the box. Referee Jose Carlos Rivero awarded the penalty kick and Alvaro Saborio converted the PK to decide the game despite a second-half surge from Houston.
One Dynamo player is convinced the whistle should not have blown in that moment.
“In my opinion, no,” said defender Corey Ashe when asked if he thought the foul warranted a penalty. “I saw him initially wave it off, hesitate, and then call the PK. If you’re going to call the PK, call it right away.
“He’s the ref. We don’t always agree with the refs, but it’s their job to officiate the game, and all-in-all, it’s our duty to put the ball in the back of the net,” Ashe added. “We’re at fault for sure.”
The penalty kick was one of 29 fouls called in a game that had an uncommon amount of stoppages.
“It was a choppy game. We didn’t know what was a foul, what wasn’t a foul,” said Dynamo team captain Brad Davis. “It is what it is. We battled well tonight. Salt Lake’s a good team. We’re disappointed to get out of here without points.”
The PK was the punctuation of a 25-minute spell to end the first half in which the Dynamo allowed the game to get away from them. After Houston's auspicious start in the opening 15 minutes, RSL gradually started to gain control of the ball – something the Dynamo didn’t want to happen entering the match – and the home team started to take the game by the horns and dominate possession until the half.
Houston reversed the flow in the second half, seeing more of the ball and showing greater sharpness in the final third on a few chances. Despite their best efforts, there was no equalizer to be found as Saborio’s PK stood up to snap Houston’s four-game unbeaten streak.
“I thought we had a very good second half. We were a little more aggressive going forward,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear. “I thought we had some chances and were good enough to get something out of the game tonight. We had some openings, but weren’t able to take advantage of them.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.