WASHINGTON -- The orange bus was not parked on the field at RFK Stadium when referee Baldomero Toledo began play with his opening whistle Sunday. Not after practically doing so at Livestrong Sporting Park against Sporting Kansas City 11 days ago almost cost the Houston its playoff life.
Nursing a two-goal lead heading into the away leg for the second consecutive playoff series, the Dynamo came out with aggression and a bit more of an attacking verve en route to balancing out their play, getting a first-half goal and eventually holding on for a 1-1 draw with D.C. United that sealed the club's MLS Eastern Conference final triumph on a 4-2 aggregate. Houston was able to match D.C.'s urgency and intensity with aggression of its own, and as a result finds itself in the MLS Cup final for the second straight year and the fourth time in the last seven seasons.
“Right from the get-go, you saw us starting to press hard, trying not to make it easy for them to play," said Dynamo captain Brad Davis, who assisted on Oscar Boniek Garcia's 33rd-minute goal that deflated the palpable energy from the RFK Stadium stands. "In all honesty, the game could have been 4-0 before they even scored a goal, so you know, we needed to take those chances a little bit better. Still, it doesn’t matter. We missed some chances, we still had to defend – guys did – we won, we’re happy and we’re moving on."
As opposed to the Houston teams of the past -- and the one that appeared in Kansas City on Nov. 7 -- that may have looked to nurse the lead while staying cautious in defense, allowed the other opposition to boss the ball while absorbing pressure and relying on set-piece proficiency to drum up offense, this Dynamo team was more balanced, dynamic and constantly in control. After Garcia's goal, the three-goal advantage opened up more opportunity for Houston to sit back and put numbers behind the ball to defend. But not until after the alteration in tactics provided the extra cushion.
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The Dynamo's midseason additions, namely Ricardo Clark and Oscar Boniek Garcia, allowed for the club to expand on its approach. Clark's play in central midfield as both a stout shield for the team's defenders and a clean distributor of the ball has given more leeway and freedom for the Dynamo's attack-minded talent to advance. Garcia, meanwhile, has brought an attacking element to the right wing that was missing for Houston in past seasons. He has helped transform Houston's counterattack while shifting focus away from Davis, the club's stalwart maestro.
"We broke well, we got a good goal and we could have scored more," Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear said. "So, the guys were disciplined. D.C. pushed numbers forward and they put balls in the box. There were some scrambles in there, but we all seemed to have the right tone in place. We could have maybe scored and put the game completely out of reach -- it got interesting at the end there -- but I think we’re well-deserved to get to the final here.”
With the attackers taking more chances in breaking forward, Houston's defenders needed to maintain tremendous organization to not get exposed. They did, with Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor dominating in the air and conceding little space for D.C.'s forwards. Goalkeeper Tally Hall had to command his area and read the game well to instill the confidence and certainty in the players in front of him, which he did. It all added up to a winning formula that has the Dynamo, the lowest seed in the Eastern Conference, a game away from hoisting another MLS Cup trophy.
"We just got goals at the great times, and we’ve defended very well," Kinnear said. "That’s what kind of gets you to finals and hopefully gets you to win championships.”