HOUSTON – The improbable 2017 Houston Dynamo would like to remind the world that there’s more than one team in this city that can get the job done when the night goes long, and today is about to turn into tomorrow.
A day after the Houston Astros stunned the Los Angeles Dodgers in extra innings on the road in the World Series, the Dynamo, at home, did much the same to Sporting Kansas City – albeit in a far lower-scoring contest.
Now a city that, post-Hurricane Harvey, is happy to welcome a little light relief during a long and arduous rebuilding process, is guaranteed five straight days of post-season action at the two stadiums virtually opposite each other downtown.
After Thursday’s 1-0 Dynamo extra-time win over Sporting, the Astros host the Dodgers for three games at Minute Maid Park. Then it’s the turn of Wilmer Cabrera’s team again, with Portland Timbers the visitors on Monday in the first leg of the 2017 Audi MLS Cup Western Conference Semifinals (8:30 p.m. CT | TICKETS).
“Watching those guys, especially against the Yankees where they didn’t win on the road, they came back and won two at home to go to the World Series, but to see them fight and to keep going, just seeing that and the emotion of the players and how they stuck together and how everyone celebrated when they hit home runs – I get inspiration from everywhere, not just football,” said defender DaMarcus Beasley, of the Astros.
“Seeing that, and obviously a home team in Houston, seeing guys hit those home runs and celebrate together, it gave me more motivation, even, to win this game today. We want to do it for Houston, we want to play our game, play our part and show that we’re a top team in Houston too. If people want to jump on the bandwagon – hey, jump on it!”
Three arid years went without playoff soccer in a city that had grown used to the Dynamo’s annual postseason forays. But now that bandwagon is gathering speed, thanks to first-year head coach Cabrera’s success in blending attacking verve with defensive solidity and youthful exuberance with veteran savvy.
Leaky at the start of the campaign, Houston shut out Kansas City for 120 minutes on Thursday. That's true even though the defense has been reshaped in a rush, with Leonardo coming off injured in the first half and A.J. DeLaGarza out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL suffered on the last day of the regular season.
Former Arsenal center back Philippe Senderos, making only his third appearance since joining the club, lasted the full 120 minutes and grew stronger after a rocky start.
“We have a group that’s very deep. When Wilmer rests four or five guys we don’t miss a beat; we’ve been doing it all season. Tough break for Leo, obviously with A.J., losing two of our big guns at the back," Beasley said. "But at the same time Philippe and Jalil [Anibaba] came in and played brilliantly. We’ve been practicing that whenever your number’s called you’ve got to be ready."
Then there was the decisive 94th-minute strike, as substitute Vicente Sánchez – a revelation as summer gave way to fall – danced down the right wing and coolly squared for Alberth Elis, who had all the time he needed to drill a low shot into the net.
Sánchez will turn 38 two days before MLS Cup. Meanwhile, Elis is a 21-year-old Honduras international who joined on loan as a Young Designated Player from Monterrey last December.
“He’s talented, smart,” Cabrera said of Sánchez. “He gave us that possibility to counterattack, to create problems for them and to create a lot of possibilities and a lot of options to be dangerous.”
As for Senderos, a 32-year-old who represented Switzerland in three World Cups? “He has made the difference organizing our defense, talking and being the leader of our defense,” Cabrera said.
The wise heads are ably assisted by the energy brought by the likes of Elis, Romell Quioto, Tomás Martínez, and Mauro Manotas, an unused substitute on Thursday. “The young guys are supporting them, and they’re running and they’re giving their best on the field and that is what the team is all about,” Cabrera said.
This was an attritional battle between two longtime rivals that recalled their cagey, crabby meetings during the Dominic Kinnear era in Houston; there were almost as many yellow cards as shots on target (10 to 11). But when the game grew stretched in extra time, the Dynamo flourished, and their sharp breaks would have extended the lead but for wayward finishing.
True, there’s the travel sickness, and Portland are formidable on their own patch. But it’s axiomatic that no team looks forward to visiting BBVA Compass Stadium, where the Dynamo compiled a 12-1-4 regular season record in 2017. And Houston’s hapless road form has improved lately, with four draws and two defeats since the year’s lone victory, at RFK Stadium in July.
“We all know there’s a common goal and everybody’s bought in,” said goalkeeper Tyler Deric. Much like a certain other team known for its orange jerseys.
“I was watching the San Jose-Vancouver game [on Tuesday night] and I would hear outside my apartment, just everybody roaring, and it was a Marwin Gonzalez home run to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth,” Deric said of that night's Astros win in the World Series. “It’s that energy and that passion that the fans have, really sparks these teams right now."