HoustonDynamo.com will continue to count down the ten best Dynamo games of 2012 through Friday. With so many great games to choose from, it was difficult to settle on ten, and tougher still to decide how to rank them. We will unveil one game per day, with a look back at what made the game special and include game highlights. Here is #3:
Chicago Fire 1 : 2 Houston Dynamo
October 31, 2012 - Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.
MLS Cup playoffs Knockout Round
After entering the playoffs as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in each of the first six trips to the playoffs in club history, the Dynamo arrived at the 2012 postseason in unfamiliar territory as a No. 5 seed. The low seed meant an unenviable assignment: A trip to the Windy City to face the Chicago Fire is a single-game playoff on Halloween night.
The Dynamo did, however, carry a mental advantage into the Knockout Round playoff game against the Fire. The orange were able to rest ten probable starters in the final regular season game at Colorado, which offered the Dynamo starters fresh legs in Chicago four days later.
The endeavor was still a tall task, as the Dynamo were forced to go on the road to play a team they had not defeated in three regular season meetings, including a 3-1 Fire win on Labor Day at Toyota Park. Moreover, the Fire were one of the hottest teams in the league in the second half of the season, remaining in second place for much of September and October and having realistic hopes to claim the top seed in the East. But Chicago slipped up on the final day of the regular season, wasting several scoring opportunities in a 1-1 home tie against D.C. United that dropped the club to fourth place and allowed the Dynamo to rest their starters in Colorado.
The season-series between the clubs was odd in some ways, with neither club dominating any of the three games. The first encounter, on April 15 in Chicago, was remembered by two lightning delays, the second of which forced the game to end with the score 1-1 in the 66th minute.
The second meeting, on July 3 in Houston, was a mostly dull 0-0 draw. The final game between the clubs was highlighted by a Dynamo turnover in their own half that allowed Patrick Nyarko to score an uncontested goal just 47 seconds after the opening whistle.
After winning only three of 17 road games in the regular season, the Dynamo reversed form and beat the Fire, 2-1, to begin their road back to the MLS Cup Final. The Knockout Round win – No. 3 on our list of the Top 10 Dynamo games of 2012 – was marked by the continuation of Will Bruin’s breakout season.
Bruin, the second-year forward out of Indiana University, scored 12 regular seasons goals, one shy of Brian Ching’s franchise record. But the striker had never started a playoff game after coming off the bench three times in the 2011 postseason. Bruin didn’t waste his first playoff start, scoring both goals in the 2-1 victory.
Before Bruin provided the lead, the Dynamo challenged the Fire back line and goalkeeper Sean Johnson in the early going. Calen Carr, starting against his former team, tested Johnson in the sixth minute, settling a bouncing ball 40 yards from goal before turning quickly to face goal. He fired a low, left-footed shot that was bumbled by Johnson after he dove to his right.
Chicago’s first scoring chance arrived in the tenth minute, with Alvaro Fernandez receiving a through ball in behind the Dynamo defense. The Uruguayan juked defender Kofi Sarkodie inside the box, but a heavy touch led to a soft shot after Tally Hall did well to close his space at the near post.
Bruin provided Houston’s opening goal in the 12th minute. Brad Davis sent a corner kick toward the front of the six-yard box and Bruin capitalized as his marker slipped with a leap and a strong header inside the post for his first career playoff goal.
Moments after halftime, the Dynamo doubled their lead on a sequence that epitomizes their playoff success. Just 13 second after the half began with a Fire kickoff, midfielder Ricardo Clark made a play that gives you an idea of why he was selected to start for the United States at the 2010 World Cup and is known for his innate ability to cover ground.
With the Dynamo pressuring the Fire off the kickoff, the ball was played near the sideline to Chicago left back Gonzalo Segares, who took a moment before attempting to clear the ball into the Houston half. While many players would have been satisfied with the clearance, Clark did the extra work, seizing upon Segares’ hesitation with a sprint and a sliding challenge. Clark succeeded, blocking the pass with a sliding leg. The rebound rolled right to Carr, who found Bruin a moment later streaking toward the Fire goal.
Bruin needed just two touches, one with the outside of his foot to settle the ball, and the other to fire past Johnson into the side of the net for a 2-0 lead. It took a total of 19 seconds from the second half whistle, and with hustle from Clark, a quick pass from Carr, and a clinical finish from Bruin, the Dynamo had a commanding lead.
Bruin became the third Dynamo player in franchise history to score two goals in a playoff game. Brian Ching scored two goals in the 2007 Western Conference semifinal against FC Dallas and Paul Dalglish scored two goals in the 2006 Western Conference final versus Colorado.
Carr nearly made it 3-0 for Houston in the 69th minute, receiving a quality ball from Adam Moffat over the top of the defense and racing toward the near post, where his shot was saved by Johnson.
Hall rose to the occasion for the Dynamo five minutes later, diving to his left to palm away a high, bending shot from Nyarko. The save would gain significance a bit later.
Chicago cut the lead in half in the 83th minute as Alex received a pinpoint pass from Nyarko on the left side of the penalty area and found a way to fit his tight-angled shot inside the far post.
The remainder of the game required desperate defending by the Dynamo. The Fire came to life after Alex’s goal, sending waves of attacks into the Houston box. But the Dynamo stood tall and finished the job, producing their third road playoff win in franchise history, all of which have come in the last two seasons.
The spark was lit in Chicago on Halloween night, and the Dynamo were on their way to another thrilling playoff run.
Return to HoustonDynamo.com on Thursday afternoon for Game #2 on our list of the Top 10 Dynamo games of 2012.