Jermaine Taylor had not played for the Dynamo first team in more than a month and had never played for the club in a match this important. So when Dominic Kinnear pointed his way in the first half of Sunday’s Eastern Conference final, Taylor took a second to calm himself down.
“I thought, ‘C’mon, Jermaine, this is a tough one,’” Taylor said. “It’s an MLS Cup playoff game, and it was my first time playing in a playoff game, so I appreciated getting involved in the game. I just wanted to go out there and give my best at left back.”
Taylor, of course, was summoned to replace league MVP candidate Brad Davis in the lineup, pushing normal left back Corey Ashe into the midfield. The decision by Kinnear was made with defense in mind, as the two midfielders on his bench, Alex Dixon and Je-Vaughn Watson, would have been more offensive substitutes, and pushing Geoff Cameron back into the midfield would have been a major shift in Houston’s defense.
The choice of Taylor turned out to be an inspired one. His physical defending and calm – bordering on too calm, at times – passes out of the back meant the Houston back line did not miss a beat.
“Jermaine was fantastic,” said midfielder Adam Moffat after the game. “He’s not played in a little while, but he’s kept himself ready. There are a lot of guys on the team, guys who didn’t even play tonight, and they’ve been amazing at training. Those guys get overlooked because they’re not out there on the field, but they maintain a high level at practice and it helps the whole team.”
Moffat was another player thrust unexpectedly into the limelight, as he took over free-kick duties with Davis and fellow lefty Colin Clark unavailable. His first chance, a late first-half corner kick, was a dangerous out-swinger toward the penalty spot, setting the tone for his deliveries.
“I never take corner kicks or free kicks unless I’m going up to hit the ball as hard as I can, but I can deliver,” Moffat said. “We’ve got guys that can attack the ball, so I don’t need to deliver it as well as Brad does – not many people can.”
Moffat’s delivery was more than good enough early in the second half, as he fired a hard-hit bender between Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and his back line in the 53rd minute. Arriving at the back post was none other than Taylor, who said his presence was no accident.
“As I kept watching the game from off the bench, I saw their technical movements where they step forward on their set pieces,” Taylor said. “I told Adam Moffat, ‘Just look for me, I’m going to be at the back,’ and that’s where it all started.”
Moffat’s delivery flashed across the six-yard box, just missing a charging Brian Ching, but Taylor reached it at the back post, and after Nielsen saved his header, Andre Hainault was on hand to outmuscle Matt Besler and poke the ball home. Perhaps the biggest play of the conference championship game, and it came from two players who did not expect to be playing those parts.
“That goal was huge,” Moffat said. “The game was on a knife’s edge. They didn’t have too many opportunities, but there wasn’t a clear-cut team in the lead, so it was huge to get that goal off that set piece.”
For Taylor, the 51 minutes were his most since he played 90 minutes at right back against Columbus on Sept. 14. The 26-year-old, acquired in preseason as a potential starter at the back, did not see the playing time he expected over the course of the season, but he was ready to contribute at the right moment, which should be a sign of things to come.
“You always want to be playing for the top spot, especially my first year in the league,” Taylor said. “It’s good for me and for Je-Vaughn [Watson] as well, my fellow Jamaican player. I just want to do my best for the Dynamo and everybody and make the fans and everybody back home in Jamaica proud of me.”