HOUSTON – There will be a very noticeable absence on Houston Dynamo bench on Sunday afternoon as head coach Dominic Kinnear will serve a one-game suspension for his actions at the end of Thursday’s 3-0 win over the Montreal Impact in the Eastern Conference Knockout Round game.
The MLS Disciplinary Committee handed down the one-game suspension to the Houston coach, along with a fine, for leaving his technical area during an 89th-minute brawl between the two teams.
The Dynamo were adamant, though, that the absence is not what will determine the result of the first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal against the New York Red Bulls (3:30 pm ET, NBC).
“It’s not [New York head coach] Mike Petke against Dominic Kinnear,” said defender Bobby Boswell. “It’s not about the coaches. Obviously, he’s our leader and we’re going to miss him. Bottom line is the guys on the field are the ones that play the game, the guys on the sidelines don’t.
“If a guy had gotten thrown out of that game and missed this game tomorrow that would’ve been a bigger deal than [Kinnear] missing a game."
Keeping players eligible is a tradeoff the Dynamo are willing to make.
“It’s always good to not have the players affected,” said Dynamo assistant coach Wade Barrett. “To be honest the coaching staff kind of leaves the players alone on game day. All the coaching happens before the game anyways. The guys will be ready.”
The punishment, however, is unfortunate for Houston considering the circumstances. Kinnear left his area to help calm down a situation that got well out of hand when the Impact's Andrés Romero kicked out and a defenseless Kofi Sarkodie. Kinnear's intent looked to be to break the fight up, but he paid the price for his role as peacemaker.
“All I can say is that I broke a rule," Kinnear told the Houston Chronicle on Friday. "I'm being punished for it. I respect the league, accept the decision and I felt like I was acting in the best interest of our team at that particular time."
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After Saturday’s training the Dynamo players backed their coach’s actions.
“He was trying to calm us down and break up the situation,” said Corey Ashe, who yellow carded for his battle with Marco Di Vaio during the fracas. “It is obviously against the rules. It would’ve been nice if they let it go. He wasn’t trying to start anything. He was trying to get his players away trying to make sure there were no red cards on our end. It’s unfortunate.”
Now Houston will head into the opener against the Supporters' Shield winners without Kinnear. While the stakes are undoubtedly higher, it's a situation they have dealt with before, most recently in a Sept. 14 against the Philadelphia Union that the Dynamo won, 1-0.
“This isn’t the first time he’s been suspended and we’ve gotten results before,” Ashe said. “We know what we have to do. It comes down to the players on the field getting the job done.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.