While the New York Red Bulls and LA Galaxy got the headlines Sunday night for their postgame melee, the real physical match took place just a few miles southwest of Red Bull Arena. The Houston Dynamo and Philadelphia Union played a 2-1 game that saw six yellow cards, three of which were borderline reds.
Houston captain Brian Ching told the Houston Chronicle that the some of the Union players were “a little dirty,” but it comes with the territory of playoff soccer. His teammates agreed that they expect physical play after Tuesday's training session.
“I’m a physical player as it is, and I don’t mind it; I enjoyed the game Sunday,” said Danny Cruz, who was on the receiving end of a Gabriel Farfan boot that resulted in a fourth-minute yellow card for the Philly wingback. “I’m not a player that has a problem with it. It excited me and actually made me want to play harder. I’m looking forward to [Thursday], and I know it’s going to be another battle.”
Of course, the Union were not the only physical team on the field. Houston has been known for its toughness over the years. As a team, the Dynamo pride themselves on their never-quit attitude, and with that comes a certain relishing of physical contact.
“It’s the playoffs, and when I go away with the national team, guys who come to Houston know it’s going to be physical,” said defender Andre Hainault. “Sometimes it’s a different type. Sunday was a playoff game, and the pressure is high. I know I took a couple of shots, but I gave a couple as well. It was a playoff game, and it’s all part of it.”
Still, there were some instances in Sunday’s game that seemed to cross the line. In addition to the foul on Cruz, another hard challenge came in the 40th minute, when Sheanon Williams put in a tough, sweeping, two-legged tackle from behind on Adam Moffat at midfield. It was a tackle that the Scottish midfielder did not take lightly, exchanging words and shoves with Williams after both picked themselves up off the grass. The last and possibly most notorious was a Carlos Valdés knee to a downed Will Bruin late in the game.
Despite the rough play, the Dynamo were adamant Wednesday that not only was it part of the game, but they expect nothing to change in the second leg as both teams battle to keep their season alive.
“Games like that can get chippy, and there were a few bad challenges, and I got worked myself,” Moffat said. “Guys will get stuck in a little more, and with that circumstance with them down and us being physical … teams try and be more physical with us. You just have to keep battling. They’re playing for their season, and we’re doing the same.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.