HOUSTON – Brian Ching knows, perhaps better than any other member of the Houston Dynamo, knows what it takes to get a big goal when the club needs it most.
In the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Philadelphia Union om Thursday night, Ching struck the lone goal to give Houston the win and seal their passage to the Conference Championship for the fourth time in six years. In the final reckoning, the Dynamo beat the Union, 3-1 on aggregate, and now move on to face Sporting Kansas City on Sunday at Livestrong Sporting Park.
In a game that lacked the quality and quantity of chances as the first leg, it was a familiar script that resulted in Ching’s goal and Houston’s win. As first-half stoppage time ticked away, Houston’s Brad Davis whipped in a cross from the right side that was met by an on-rushing Ching, who flicked his header in at the near post.
It was Ching’s first goal for the Dynamo since August 20, and the eighth playoff strike of his 10-year career.
Houston coach Dominic Kinnear stuck with the same starting XI that earned the victory in Philadelphia, while Union manager Peter Nowak came out in a surprisingly revamped lineup. Left out of the lineup was regular starter Justin Mapp, and inserted were teenaged striker Jack McInerney and recently recovered attacking midfielder Veljko Paunovic.
Neither, however, were able to put their stamp on the match other than a decent shot from Paunovic in the 59th minute that Houston 'keeper Tally Hall dove to save.
Instead, a predictably rough-and-tumble second leg played into Houston’s hands, as wingers Brad Davis and Danny Cruz attacked the Philadelphia outside backs and earned numerous set-piece opportunities — the bread and butter of Houston’s attack.
The Union made a rare triple substitution in the 66th minute bringing on Mapp, Freddy Adu and Roger Torres. The changes provided a spark for the Union attack, and Adu had a good look at goal but seemed of two minds when striking his shot. Neither a shot nor a cross, and the ball sailed past the far post.
The loss ends a relatively successful sophomore season for the Union. The club finished third in the Eastern Conference and made their debut playoff appearance. They are young and vibrant, however, they were unable to contend with the more mature and experienced Dynamo team.
Houston now travel north to face Sporting on Sunday in the Eastern Conference Championship with a berth in the MLS Cup on the line. They will bring with them an eight-game unbeaten streak, including six wins.
Their last loss? Away to Sporting KC on September 10.
HOU -- Brian Ching 1 (Brad Davis 2) 48+
Philadelphia Union -- Faryd Mondragon, Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Gabriel Farfan (Roger Torres 66), Sebastien Le Toux, Brian Carroll, Veljko Paunovic (Freddy Adu 66), Michael Farfan, Danny Mwanga (Justin Mapp 66), Jack McInerney.
Substitutes Not Used: Stefani Miglioranzi, Kyle Nakazawa, Amobi Okugo, Zac MacMath.
Houston Dynamo -- Tally Hall, Andre Hainault, Bobby Boswell, Geoff Cameron, Corey Ashe, Danny Cruz (Je-Vaughn Watson 57), Luiz Camargo, Adam Moffat, Brad Davis, Brian Ching (Carlo Costly 81), Calen Carr (Will Bruin 89).
Substitutes Not Used: Alex Dixon, Hunter Freeman, Jermaine Taylor, Tyler Deric.
PHI -- Carlos Valdes (caution; Reckless Tackle) 30
PHI -- Gabriel Farfan (caution; Reckless Foul) 51
HOU -- Calen Carr (caution; Reckless Foul) 67
Referee: Ricardo Salazar
Referee's Assistants: Craig Lowry; Peter Manikowski
4th Official: Edvin Jurisevic
Time of Game: 1:52
Weather: Clear and 58 degrees