With their season constantly in peril, the Houston Dynamo haven't had much time to stop and think about the consequences.
Starting with a trip to Panama for a CONCACAF Champions League match October 24, and then trips to D.C. for their regular-season finale and New York for the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Wednesday, Houston have played five games in 14 days with their season’s mortality at stake in one competition or another.
So when the end of regulation time hit Wednesday night, it's understandable that there were some hands on knees or hips, and heavy legs being carried by the players in orange.
But needing a goal and preparing for an extra 30 minutes to add to their 450 minutes of soccer in two weeks, Houston did what they always do: respond. And when Omar Cummings' game- and series-winning goal trickled over the goalline in the 104th minute, all the pain and heavy legs became worth it.
“A lot of guys put in what I call a man’s performance tonight,” said center back Bobby Boswell. “That’s where they don’t think they can go anymore and they find a way to keep going.
“We’re a good group with our back against the wall, and I’ve always said that. It’s unfortunate some of the situations we put ourselves in, but at the same time, that’s when we seem to thrive the most.”
It was not always pretty, but Houston certainly did thrive Wednesday. With their playoff survival contingent on getting a goal on the road against a much fresher New York Red Bulls side, who had only played three games in the aforementioned span of time, including Wednesday, Houston outworked the home side in the extratime period.
Still, those 14 draining days took their toll and there were times during which the sturdy Dynamo looked on the verge of cracking as a desperate Red Bulls side threw numbers forward, uncorking 23 shots in all.
“That’s because we were [exhausted],” said head coach Dominic Kinnear. “Five games in 14 days, including CONCACAF, the schedule’s not doing us any favors. But credit to guys for sticking with it and taking advantage of our opportunities when they came up.”
While the energy level was down, Houston still came through. Houston outlasted and outworked the Red Bulls in the final 30 minutes of Wednesday’s semifinal finale to earn a berth in the Eastern Conference Championship for the third year in a row.
Before Houston can get a well-earned break, they have another hurdle to jump. Less than 48 hours from when they collected their belongings from baggage claim on Thursday, the Dynamo will host the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship against Sporting Kansas City, a team that enjoys bringing high pressure and energy to go with a physical style. Then the series will take a two-week break for the FIFA international window.
“It’s a lot, but you weigh the alternative,” Boswell said. “We always say we rest in the offseason, and we’re not ready for that yet. We’ve got one more game in a short week, and then we’ve got a break. We’ve got to make sure we take care of business so we set ourselves up for a good second leg.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.