The Houston Dynamo closed out their 2009 regular-season campaign in style with a 3-2 win against Chivas USA at The Home Depot Center, a result that locked up second place in the Western Conference standings.
Andrew Hainault, Dominic Oduro and Abe Thompson scored for the visitors, who improved to 6-1-5 all-time against Chivas USA in their regular-season meetings.
Houston will play Seattle Sounders FC in the Western Conference Semifinal Series, with the first leg of the series this week at Qwest Field and the return game at Robertson Stadium.
Chivas USA, meanwhile, will play rivals Los Angeles Galaxy for the first time ever in the MLS Cup Playoffs, with both games slated for The Home Depot Center.
Had Chivas been able to finish their early chances, perhaps the match would have been more difficult in the early going. As it stood, Dynamo 'keeper Pat Onstad kept Chivas USA off the scoreboard and allowed his team the chance to get into the game.
Just five minutes in, Sacha Kljestan and Justin Braun worked a quick give-and-go, and Kljestan's pass sent Braun in alone on goal. With Onstad near the top of the penalty area, Braun hesitated and appeared to aim for the right corner. Braun's shot was soft and Onstad did well to dive and parry the ball away.
Maicon Santos, who picked up a yellow card after knocking down Brian Mullan, had a breakaway in the 22nd minute and went into the penalty area from the left side. But he also placed a low shot on Onstad, who was able to knock the ball away without too much harm.
Houston escaped some early chances by the opponents, then inflicted their own dose of damage on Chivas USA in a three-minute span.
In the 26th minute, Brad Davis fired a corner kick from the right side of the field to the far post. Stuart Holden headed the ball towards the center of the 6-yard box and Andrew Hainault headed the ball into the back of the net.
Then, in the 29th minute Davis again sparked Houston's attack. Davis took control of the ball and slipped a through ball to the top of the area. Dominic Oduro easily outpaced the Chivas defense, raced into the penalty area and beat Chivas USA's Zach Thornton.
Houston's goal-scoring flurry took the steam out of Chivas USA's attack and the club struggled to generate much offense for the remainder of the half.
It wasn't until the 42nd minute when Chivas USA looked dangerous, and it was Hainault who helped prevent Chivas USA from an open point-blank shot. Paulo Nagamura got past Houston's defense on the right side of the box and slipped the ball past Onstad and towards the 6-yard box. Hainault though cleared the ball away before it would have reached Kljestan, who was unmarked just a few yards behind him.
Moments later, Luis Angel Landin fell to the ground in the middle of the field and was quickly replaced by Abe Thompson.
Houston made no changes at halftime, neither on the field nor in their penchant for early saves. Braun again had the ball in a position of danger and again it was Onstad who kept the hosts off the scoreboard as Onstad turned Braun away once more.
Again, it was Houston who took advantage. Oduro raced down the right flank and into the penalty area, and found Geoff Cameron on the left side of the box after the ball deflected off a Chivas defender. Cameron sent the ball back to the other side of the box and found Thompson alone, and Thompson easily scored to give Houston an astounding 3-0 lead.
Finally, Chivas USA got on the scoreboard. Braun started the sequence on the right flank as he carried the ball towards the box. He found Nagamura on the far post and Nagamura knocked the ball to the front of the goal where rookie Michael Lahoud buried it into an open goal.
Chivas nearly pulled another goal closer in the 74th minute when Eduardo Lillingston scored from close range but his goal was ruled offside and the score remained 3-1.
It wasn't until Houston helped out the hosts with a penalty. In the 87th minute, Houston's Hainault was whistled for a penalty kick after flattening Jorge Flores inside the box. In the 88th minute, Lillingston stepped to the spot and buried his attempt past a diving Onstad as Chivas USA made things interesting for the final two minutes of play.
But two minutes more of regulation and four minutes of stoppage time were not enough for Chivas USA to pull level.
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com