Carr's timely goal part of a long journey back

In a game that seemed to be more about brawn than speed, the latter is what pushed the Houston Dynamo past the Philadelphia Union on Sunday, courtesy of Calen Carr.

In a game that saw six total yellow cards and 23 total fouls, Carr took advantage of his speed when he got behind the deep-lying Philadelphia back line in the 30th minute and took his opportunity to score the winner in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at PPL Park.

“I was moving across the line and looking for slots, and [Brian] Ching put a great ball over the top, and I got on the end of it,” Carr told MLSsoccer.com by phone after the game.

Finding space behind the Union back line was tough early in the match. Philadelphia came out with a five-man defense that sat back, close to its 18-yard box. But when Ching took a Carr header and saw space behind the back line and Carr bending his run, he took the chance to play a left-footed pass behind the defense, and the speedy forward made the chance pay off.

Carr’s goal comes near the end of a frustrating season that saw the 6-foot forward battle a concussion that kept him out of action for five months. Since coming back, he has worked his way into the forward rotation. His first goal this year came late in a 2-2 draw against the Columbus Crew on Sept. 14. His steady play and speed have made him a fixture in Houston’s game-day roster and earned a starting nod in the last three games.

“Any time the coach has enough confidence in you to give you a start, you want to play well,” Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “To get that goal, it was a good play by him. He seemed confident when he stepped on the field, and he had a good goal.”

Sunday’s performance from Carr was a payoff for his hard work, but it is far from done. With the second leg slated for Thursday night at Robertson Stadium, Carr will once again look to make a difference and help push his club back to the conference final.

“We were looking for a result, and you could tell by the way we came out,” Carr said. “I’m just thankful to be healthy and be part of this team. To be available for selection is great, and be part of a win that’s a first step for our team is a great feeling.”

Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.