PORTLAND, Ore. — Coming into the return leg of the Western Conference Semifinals, there were plenty of reasons to doubt the Houston Dynamo. Chief among them: the Dynamo have been one of the worst teams on the road in MLS this season and they had to face the Portland Timbers in front of the famously rowdy fans at Providence Park.
But with some unlikely heroes coming through with big performances in defender Dylan Remick and goalkeeper Joe Willis, the Dynamo pushed their way through Sunday to an upset 2-1 win in Portland. Now, only the Seattle Sounders stand in their way of reaching MLS Cup.
“A lot of people have been talking about how bad we’ve been on the road this year but we came here and we were able to get the result,” said Mauro Manotas, the second-half substitute who scored the game-winner, through a translator. “Now we're onto the Conference Championship.”
Due the away goals tiebreaker rule, Dynamo only needed to pull level with the Timbers, who struck first, and Remick was the unlikely hero, firing a beautiful half-volley just before halftime. It was only the second goal of his MLS career, and he said it was his way of making up for a mistake on Dairon Asprilla’s goal for the Timbers — Remick slipped on the play, leaving the opening for the Timbers winger to score.
"The first goal was my fault basically so I wanted to do what I could to get the team back into the game,” said Remick, who had only been told he would start ahead of the injured DaMarcus Beasley on Sunday morning before the game. Beasley was a late scratch due to a quad strain.
"It felt pretty amazing,” Remick said of the goal. "My right foot hasn’t done that a lot in my life, so that was cool.”
The Dynamo were buoyed by Willis, who replaced suspended goalkeeper Tyler Deric and made just his eighth start this season. Willis made a spectacular reaction save in the first half, slapping away a sharp Asprilla header to keep the score level. He finished with three saves on the day.
"He was Joe Willis and that’s important,” coach Wilmer Cabrera said. "We didn’t want anyone else. We didn’t want him to look like someone else. Joe Willis was in goal today and he showed why he was in goal.”
The Dynamo faced an amplified and hostile environment in Portland. With the Timbers Army in full voice and at times chanting harsh language the Dynamo players’ way, the match at times got chippy and tense. But Cabrera said the Dynamo didn’t let it affect their game plan, which was to neutralize Diego Valeri and play through the middle of the field, where the Timbers were without Diego Chara, who has been a key player for them.
“The environment is not hostile, the environment is beautiful,” he said. “We love to come here and see the spectacle of the fans singing and supporting."
“It’s fun and it's good. We needed to enjoy this moment and enjoy this time. The players were focused and, in the end, it’s just 22 players on the field. We were solid, we were calm and we were mature."