Houston laid the groundwork for its success in this series by accepting the terms of engagement and operating accordingly. Instead of bowing to the pressure like most of Sporting's opponents, Houston exerted its own dominance against Peter Vermes' side. Forget about buckling. The Dynamo fought back and punched Sporting right in the mouth. The tactic left Sporting to nurse its wounds over the past two winters and ponder a way to rectify the situation in 2013.
No win in the month of May offers a proportional response for a pair of postseason defeats. But this scrappy triumph – a narrow 1-0 win courtesy of an Aurélien Collin header after 73 minutes – still mattered a great deal to a team that desperately needed to carve out a foothold in this series and mitigate some of the lingering effects from those playoff setbacks.
The immediate huddle after the final whistle and the reports of celebrations in the tunnel underscored the emotional impact of handing the Dynamo their first defeat at BBVA Compass Stadium. Every streak comes to an end at some point. The fact that this run concluded in this manner bolstered a Sporting side in need of a riposte in this increasingly frayed series.
“I'm happy for the guys,” Vermes told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “I thought they did an unbelievable job. I thought their attention to detail, to the game plan, was tremendous. I don't have a critical thing to say about one guy on the team. I thought everybody worked hard and just gave everything they had on every play, concentrated on everything. I'm incredibly proud of the work ethic, the effort and the intelligence throughout the course of the 94 minutes.”
The onus now falls on Sporting to carry the impact of this game forward into more important matches. Vermes has assembled a deep and talented squad capable of marching through the regular season and mounting a significant playoff run. It is the mentality – the apparent willingness to divert from the proper course of action when a flashpoint occurs or the situation turns awry – that presents something of a question in tense encounters.
While this modestly controlled and ultimately rugged encounter did not take place in November or December, it did require Sporting to muster some of the qualities required to succeed at that stage of the campaign. It navigated through the potential concerns (albeit with a rash tackle here, an inadvisable barge or two there and Collin functioning over any rational line set pretty much everywhere), sidestepped any inadvisable decisions to reduce the numerical equality and struck to the task at hand.
It ultimately paid dividends with a cathartic victory. Whether the effects of this triumph carry over to a point where the meaning might exceed three points and an emotional lift remains somewhat unresolved. For now, the satisfaction will suffice as Sporting continues onwards with its focus trained on more significant objectives ahead.
Five Points – Week 11
1. Montreal's late show claims the points at Stade Saputo …: Matteo Ferrari atoned for his earlier own goal – an accidental touch that spectacularly looped over Troy Perkins inside the first 10 minutes – with a fantastic stoppage-time winner to hand the Impact a 3-2 win over Real Salt Lake. His acrobatic finish – admittedly aided by the ample space provided to him inside the penalty area – completed the home side's comeback on the day and ensured the perfect platform to build upon ahead of the Canadian Championship first leg against Vancouver on Wednesday.
2. … while Vancouver finally ends its winless streak: Russell Teibert – the lone Canadian in the matchday squad – exposed some shoddy Los Angeles defending (a problem all day) and Darren Mattocks turned home in second-half stoppage time to hand Vancouver a 3-1 victory at B.C. Place. The win comes at the ideal time for the previously frustrated Whitecaps as they start their preparations for the date at Stade Saputo in midweek.
3. Restoring normal service in Seattle: Sounders FC extended its unbeaten run to five matches (3-0-2) with a 4-0 dismantling of San Jose at CenturyLink Field. Lamar Neagle earned the plaudits with his two-goal showing, but this sort of comprehensive performance – even against a tattered Earthquakes side struggling to find last season's form – offered a signal that the early season missteps have concluded.
4. D.C. United establishes a baseline in Frisco: Houston's all-too-simple 4-0 victory at RFK Stadium on Wednesday needed to serve as the nadir for this season. United coach Ben Olsen assured some semblance of a response to that debacle when he made five changes to his starting XI for the 2-1 defeat at FC Dallas on Saturday. His charges still lacked the necessary quality – the first goal, in particular, showed why United is in this mess – to claim a result here, but the improved effort at least provided a meager silver lining to the club record seventh-straight defeat. Olsen must now coax more cohesiveness (particularly along that rearguard) and incisiveness (Dwayne De Rosario's free kick marked United's first road goal of the season) in order to extricate his side from this predicament.
5. Expect Mario de Luna to spend a few games on the sidelines after yet another ballboy incident: De Luna reacted poorly to a ballboy's decision to keep the ball from him in the waning stages of Chivas USA's 3-0 defeat at Portland on Sunday night. Instead of procuring a ball from another source between the benches or retreating to his defensive position to allow the Timbers to take their own throw, de Luna decided to push the ballboy in a bid to wrest the ball from his control. His foolish choice will likely prompt the Disciplinary Committee to extend his one-match ban for caution accumulation (and how does Silviu Petrescu not send him off there, by the way?) by another match or two.