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Arguably the best two teams in the league, Columbus and Houston battled at Crew Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Whenever the leaders of each division get together, it tends to be a highly competitive and exciting match. Sunday’s clash between the Columbus Crew and Houston Dynamo was no different, with the Crew triumphing late in the game for a 2-1 win.

Up and down play for the majority of the match made this potential MLS Cup Final preview a great match to take in.

It took a late Eddie Gaven spot kick to separate the two sides who look destined to meet in Seattle this November.

First Half

Given that the sides are generally stingy on defense, given their position in the standings, it took a while for the first real chances of the match to come about.

The defenses played with strict devotion that you’d expect and when the ball came close to either area in the early going, it was dispelled handily.

That doesn’t mean the pace of the game wasn’t there. It was very quick in the early stages with the final third being the real problem area for the two teams.

Making his first start for Houston was Luis Landin, and his name was mentioned numerous times in the first half. Active in the play up top, Landin was on the end of Houston’s best two chances of the first third of the match.

In both instances, the ball was played through to Landin in the box, with the first one being dropped in over the top and the other along the turf. The first chance was hoofed over on the volley and the second was taken nicely by Landin but his shot left much to be desired.

The choppy but quick first half continued for much of the opening stanza with the goal breakthrough not happening until the 34th minute.

Columbus was pressuring down the left side and a deep cross was put in across the goal. The ball bounced around and took a deflection, but eventually was met by the head of Crew captain Frankie Hejduk who was totally unmarked. The veteran full back was able to direct it into the net, which Dynamo keeper Pat Onstad had left gaping.

That lead held out the remainder of the first half with the teams exchanging moderate chances before the first 45 concluded.

Second Half

The second half started out with Houston determined to bring the game level, but were thwarted in their efforts by solid play from the Crew’s veteran pair of full-backs.

Captain Frankie Hejduk and Gino Padula weren’t intimidated by the speed coming their way on the flanks. They made numerous key tackles and really seemed to stunt the progress of the usually relentless Dynamo attack.

Houston’s best chance of the match came minutes into the second 45 when Brian Mullan took the ball down the right side and cut it inside. Lining up the shot, Mullan fired and put it just out of Will Hesmer’s reach and barely over the bar.

The Western Conference leaders weren’t able to generate much else until near the 70th minute when their captain Brian Ching found the ball at his feet with one defender to beat. Able to maneuver away from the marker, Ching was free to fire a shot on net, but didn’t make the most of it and shot it over.

Houston kept the pressure on high as the full-time whistle drew nearer. In the 78th minute, the ball was played in from the wing, a ball that Will Hesmer should have easily snagged, but instead bobbled it in the six and saw it bounce to a Dynamo player at the edge of the six. The shot was blocked and bounced right to Brian Ching who had an open header but sent it wide.

The goal was coming for Houston and it finally did in the 81st minute. The ball was played into Brian Ching at the right of the box. He was then able to flick it into the middle to a waiting Cam Weaver who blasted it near post by Hesmer.

Following the goal, things got a bit testy as an altercation saw Ricardo Clack and Adam Moffat see red resulting in both sides playing with 10 men for the remaining few moments of the match.

With only 10 minutes left after the red cards, you’d think that both sides would sit back and settle for the point. Not to be however as there was pressure put on at both ends and the deadlock looked to be broken before the last whistle.

It wouldn’t be a typical goal that would do it though, as the Crew were able to win a penalty when Geoff Cameron pulled down Alejandro Moreno in the box when a cross was put in. The foul was deemed spot-kick worthy by the referee and Eddie Gaven cooly converted to give the 2-1 lead that would stick until the end of the match.

From here, Columbus travels to Saprissa for CONCACAF Champions League action while the Dynamo are at Pachuca participating in the same competition.

The win puts the Crew alone at the top of the league table with 42 points. Houston sits in second overall with 40 points.

Shane Evans,

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