It was as if the 2012 Eastern Conference playoffs never ended. There were the Houston Dynamo, confident and ready to take every inch, by force or submission, and on the other side an overmatched Montreal Impact team that had more chance in a late-game fight than in the run of play.
As the Dynamo playoff machine kicked into gear, one very important cog had a much welcomed shine: forward Will Bruin.
The Houston forward has taken his share of criticism this year for his inability to convert chances. But there he was Thursday night, still making sharp runs and working hard as he did all regular season, and there was confidence and a feel that when he got the ball in a dangerous position, it was going in the net. He did that, twice in fact, for his second career playoff brace.
“Will knows we have confidence in him, regardless of what people say,” said left back Corey Ashe, who set up Bruin’s second goal in the 3-0 victory over the Impact on Thursday. “People are going to love you and they’re going to hate you but we know what he’s capable of. He has a lot of confidence in himself. …Tonight was huge. You need a guy to build that confidence and get hot around playoff time.”
Still, his Halloween brace at BBVA Compass Stadium against the Impact was a welcome show of confidence after more than a month of being held scoreless. His exploits in playoff time are among the best. According to ESPN, only five active players – Brian Ching, Carlos Ruiz, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Mike Magee – have more playoff goals than Bruin’s six.
The burly forward punished the Impact back line, running over them at times and through them when given the chance. His first goal, which was the product of a sublime back heel by Ricardo Clark, was comparable to the kind of strikes his prolific opposite number, Impact striker Marco Di Vaio, has shown this season and Bruin's second was the result of sheer power and persistence.
It was as if the regular-season woes had not happened, and his form and production propelled the Dynamo into the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
“I thought Will Bruin was excellent tonight,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear. “It’s great to see him scoring goals. I think he enjoyed it a lot after getting knocked down all night.”
“I think it couldn’t have gone better,” added centerback Bobby Boswell of Bruin’s night. “We’ve got our guys scoring goals at the right time.”
Houston’s performance was more than just Bruin. There were few silly giveaways and each line played with a sharpness you would expect from a team that has been through the wars.
But one factor that carried them through last season was Bruin’s ability to hit the back of the net. Thursday night, the third-year forward scored his sixth goal in just seven playoff starts. That’s the type of performance from a player that has confidence and can instill the same in his team.
“I’m glad for him,” Boswell said. “I’m really happy he got his goals tonight and hopefully he keeps going forward.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.