The Houston Dynamo have overcome huge player absences in the past, but three missing pieces simply proved too much on Saturday night with a bid in the MLS Cup final on the line.
Without forward Will Bruin, defender Jermaine Taylor or holding midfielder Ricardo Clark, Houston failed to build on an early lead or hold Sporting Kansas City back in the second half of the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship, eventually falling 2-1 to end their season.
And although head coach Dominic Kinnear stuck by the players he did have available in the loss, he was well aware his team wasn’t at full strength when it counted.
“I’m not much of a talker about guys who aren’t here,” Kinnear said. “I’d rather concentrate on the guys that are here, but I know we’re a better team with Will, Ricardo and Jermaine. There’s no guarantee we would’ve won the game if they were starting, but I think our squad would be in better shape if they were here.”
As the Dynamo struggled to combat a rejuvenated Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi in the Sporting Kansas City midfield, it was tough not to notice the missing bite that Clark typically brings. His ability to cover ground and kill possession would have come in handy on the night, but a left leg injury suffered during the series’ first leg on Nov. 9 was too much to overcome.
“Everybody knows how important he is and has been to our team,” Dynamo captain Brad Davis said. “Would we have liked to have him? Absolutely we would’ve liked to have him. He’s a huge piece of our puzzle. It hurts to not have him out on the field with us, but honestly, it is what it is.”
Bruin’s ability and knack for scoring in the postseason – including six playoff goals in the last two seasons - could have helped on the night as well. His replacement Cam Weaver was active, and was necessary at times to match K.C.’s physical play. But his missed a costly sitter in the 30th minute that could have potentially put the Dynamo in the driver’s seat headed into halftime.
Bruin, like Clark, suffered an injury during the first leg of the series two weeks ago and was unable to recover in time for the finale on Saturday night.
“They’ve been a big part of what we’ve done all season but I don’t want to discredit what the guys who came into this team did,” midfielder Giles Barnes said. “All you have to do is work hard and no one in this team will be disgruntled with you for that. That’s our team ethos: Just work hard and the rest will follow. It’s just unfortunate it ended today.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.