Photo: Nicolae Stoian
Despite having two weeks to prepare for Saturday night’s showdown at BBVA Stadium in Houston, the Union were outplayed throughout, slumping to a 3–1 defeat. With the win, the Dynamo, who returned to their traditional 4–4–2 formation for the must-win contest, clinched a place in the 2012 MLS playoffs.
Well aware that a victory was the only acceptable outcome, Houston came out quickly and the Union had no answer. Within 5 minutes, Macoumba Kandji had the ball in the back of the Union net following a gaffe from Carlos Valdes. Continuing to press as they looked to put the game out of sight, the Union hit back against the run of play. Jack McInerney positioned himself between two defenders in the 19th minute and nodded Sheanon Williams’ cross back across the face of goal, stunning the home crowd.
It would be the Union’s only shot on goal, as the Dynamo bossed the second half of the match. For Houston, Brad Davis came close twice, with a desperate sliding challenge and a post the only things keeping the Dynamo at bay. Finally, in the 71st minute, Oscar Boniek Garcia grabbed the match-winner on the counterattack before Valdes’ calamitous evening finished with a penalty conceded to Houston striker Will Bruin.
With Keon Daniel unavailable, John Hackworth welcomed back the recovered pair of Danny Cruz and Freddy Adu into the starting lineup. Featuring alongside Michael Farfan, the trio supported Jack McInerney, who again ran alone up top for the Union.
Whatever preparation had been done during the international break failed to take into account a desperate Houston side, with the Union looking unprepared for the pressure they would face from the opening whistle. Even before Kandji’s 5th minute goal, the hosts should have been in front when Brad Davis eluded the attention of Brian Carroll, shooting over Zac MacMath’s goal.
Moments later however, Kandji got a touch ahead of Valdes, whose wild swipe at the ball only served to connect with the underside of Kandji’s boot. Racing into the box with Okugo for company, Kandji’s last touch pushed the ball wide enough to create space for the big striker to bury his finish beyond MacMath.
The Union were struggling at the back when Ricardo Clark got around the visibly hobbled Williams before Okugo’s two touch clearance was nearly pounded into the net, again by Kandji.
Boniek Garcia, deployed in midfield on the night, was back at it in the 13th minute. Picking out Davis with a clever switch of fields, the Honduran international continued his run into the box, only to steer his header wide from the resulting cross.
The Union were unable to keep possession in the midfield, with the central group of Adu, Carroll and Michael Lahoud all guilty of slow play, resulting in a rash of momentum killing turnovers.
Yet out of nowhere, the Union fashioned an equalizer in the 19th minute.
When Carroll’s long, switching ball fell to Williams, the defender’s pace earned him a cushion from Houston defender Kofi Sarkodie. Hooking the ball into the box, Williams’ found McInerney, who had carved out space between Jermaine Taylor and Corey Ashe. Heading back across the face of goal, Tally Hall remained rooted to the spot, helpless to keep out Jack Mac’s club record fourth goal in as many matches.
Buoyed by the goal, the Union looked to build on the momentum but found Houston’s physicality too much to handle. Heavy challenges from Bobby Boswell and Taylor went unpunished and the Union were rebuffed in the final third through brute force.
In the 31st minute, Farfan nearly sprung Cruz, but the backtracking Ashe intercepted the pass at the final moment. Not one to give up on the play, Cruz chased after Ashe’s backpass. Nevertheless, while he was able to charge down Hall’s clearance, the result was a Houston goal kick.
As the match crept towards halftime, Kandji had a golden opportunity to put Houston back in the lead. When Adam Moffat played Davis to the endline, the Union defense looked to have the situation under control. But when MacMath flapped badly at Davis’ cutback cross, Kandji, again slipping free of Carroll, had little to do other than tap the ball home. Waiting for the bounce, he mishit his finish, shockingly banging the ball over the crossbar.
Houston came out of the tunnel intent on earning all three points and would have had the lead in minutes were it not for a confident double save from MacMath. Quick passing from Bruin and Clark teed up Boniek racing in on the right flank and, after MacMath got low to block away his shot, the Union keeper recovered quickly to catch Kandji’s follow up effort.
With Freddy Adu anonymous, Michael Farfan looked to spur the Union into action, hunting for work in center of the park. After trying to put Cruz through on the right wing, Farfan came within inches of releasing McInerney on a breakaway, only to see Hall slide out, narrowly winning the race to the ball.
The Union’s attacking forays were few and far in between and Davis nearly put his side back into the lead in the 60th minute. Racing into the box, he looked to have the far post picked out only to see a sliding challenge from Okugo keep the scores level.
Still, Davis was intent on spurring his team to victory and nearly had his side in front in the 66th minute. Running right at the Union defense, he powered straight through the tackle of Valdes. With Lahoud on his shoulder, his far post blast cannoned back off the woodwork and the Union clung to the level scoreline.
But it would not last long.
With numbers stranded upfield in the 71st minute on a free kick, Hall started a quick counterattack. Swiftly moving the ball into the final third, Brian Ching fed Boniek Garcia, who cut in from the left to unleash a powerful near post drive. MacMath got a hand to the shot, but could not keep it out of the back of the net.
It was a just reward for a dominant performance and Houston had to wait only minutes before they would earn some insurance.
Beaten badly for the third time on the night, Valdes lost a foot race to Will Bruin in the 74th minutes. Sliding in to pressure the shot, he could only look on in disbelief when referee Mark Geiger whistled for a penalty kick, judging the Union captain to have hacked down Bruin in the process of shooting.
Coolly sending MacMath the wrong way, Davis slotted home Houston’s third goal on the night, insuring their playoff future for 2012.
With a midweek fixture against the Eastern Conference leading Sporting Kansas City, the Union will have little time to dwell on this lethargic performance before they play their second of three spoiler matches in the final week of the season.
Zac MacMath; Raymon Gaddis, Amobi Okugo, Sheanon Williams (Antoine Hoppenot ’64); Danny Cruz (Roger Torres ’78), Brian Carroll, Michael Lahoud, Freddy Adu (Gabriel Gomez ’58), Michael Farfan; Jack McInerney
Unused substitutes: Chris Konopka, Chandler Hoffman, Greg Jordan, Christhian Hernandez
TOTAL SHOTS: 7 (Gabriel Gomez 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 1 (Jack McInerney 1); FOULS: 16 (Michael Farfan 5); OFFSIDES: 6 (Jack McInerney 5); CORNER KICKS: 3 (Roger Torres 2); SAVES: 4 (Zac MacMath 4)
Tally Hall; Kofi Sarkodie, Bobby Boswell, Jermaine Taylor, Corey Ashe; Ricardo Clark, Adam Moffat (Giles Barnes ’56), Brad Davis (Warren Creavalle ’85), Oscar Boniek Garcia; Will Bruin, Macoumba Kandji (Brian Ching ’66)
Unused substitutes: Tyler Deric, Andre Hainault, Cam Weaver, Calen Carr
TOTAL SHOTS: 18 (Brad Davis 5); SHOTS ON GOAL: 7 (Macoumba Kandji 2, Brad Davis 2, Boniek Garcia 2); FOULS: 13 (Boniek Garcia 5); OFFSIDES: 2 (Kofi Sarkodie 1, Macoumba Kandji 1); CORNER KICKS: 2 (Brad Davis 2); SAVES: 0
5 – HOU: Kandji (Moffat)
19 – PHI: McInerney (Williams)
71 – HOU: Boniek (Ching)
75 – HOU: Davis (penalty)
67 – PHI: McInerney (caution)