As the Houston Dynamo dropped out of the CONCACAF Champions League, they got a perfect glimpse of some of the tournament's uglier traits.
As the club looked to push back after falling behind to Árabe Unido just after the hour mark of their 1-0 loss, the Panamanian club employed some unseemly, yet effective, tactics to kill off their eventual quarterfinal clinching win.
From balls coming out of the stands, to cramps to intentionally disrupting free kicks, Unido pulled out all the stops. It got them a win, if not the admiration of Dynamo players, coaches and fans.
“In some ways we’ve come to expect some of that, but I will say that every time it happens it’s frustrating,” assistant coach Wade Barrett told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “I don’t think those things should be part of the game and it’s extremely frustrating when they happen.”
“You know that’s going to happen once they get that opportunity,” added forward Omar Cummings to MLSsoccer.com after the game. “It’s ugly football. You’re trying to get a point by trying to weasel your way the best you can. You don’t want to play. It’s not playing. It’s frustrating.”
Veterans of the region's top club tournament, Houston have seen all these antics before. In that situation, they know what is coming as does everyone on the pitch, including the referee.
“It’s expected and you hope the referees know what they’re doing,” Cummings said. “I feel like four minutes [stoppage time] was a joke compared to all the antics that were going on, on the field.”
For Barrett, the referee is a very small part of the equation.
“For me, the referee has a hard job when the players make it hard with every decision he has to make,” Barrett said. “I don’t think the referees need to change, I think the players need to change.”
Houston’s fate was not sealed by the late tactics alone, however. Houston, and Cummings specifically, had three clear chances to go up a goal midway through the first half. Needing only a draw to advance, an early tally would have put them in the driver’s seat. However, the attack misfired, creating just five chances on the night, and never testing the ‘keeper.
“As a striker you expect to put those on target and make the goalkeeper do the work,” Cummings said. “I let my team down. I let myself down. It’s in the past, but its’ going to eat at me the next couple of days. You don’t try and hold on to these things too long, especially with the game coming in [the season finale against] D.C. and how important that is.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.