The 3-0 win Houston Dynamo delivered to the New York Red Bulls in both teams' final game of the Carolina Challenge Cup on Saturday night at Blackbaud Stadium made two things abundantly clear: Houston is nearly ready for competitive play. However New York, which failed to score a goal in any of the tournament's three games, is not.
The win made Houston (2-0-1) champion of the three-game round robin preseason tournament. Many of the players and coaches also won the Carolina Challenge Cup last year with San Jose. Since the founding of the Battery-hosted tournament in 2004, the winner has gone on to win the MLS Supporters' Shield. In 2004, the Columbus Crew won the tournament over D.C. United on goal differential.
With striker Brian Ching back from U.S. national team duty, Houston fielded -- save midfielder Brad Davis -- essentially the same lineup with which it will enter the season. Ching made his presence felt almost immediately, launching a sitter from two yards out over Tony Meola's crossbar.
A few minutes later Ching redeemed himself. Unmarked inside the New York six-yard box, Ching got on the end of a perfectly placed Brian Mullan cross from the right flank, easily heading the ball home in the 19th minute.
"Ching is a fantastic player," said Houston captain Wade Barrett. "As you can see, we're a better team when he's on the field."
Yet to win a game in the tournament, New York looked better -- defensively at least --than it did on Wednesday's loss 1-0 to the USL First Division Charleston Battery, taking the field with a four-man back line as opposed to the three-man defense it used on Wednesday.
"We played better than we did on Wednesday," Red Bulls coach Mo Johnston said. "I really don't think the score was indicative of our effort defensively. We'll go to work on Tuesday, and hope to sort some things out up front before [our first regular season game] Sunday."
Youri Djorkeaff nearly leveled the score on a 62nd minute freekick, forcing Houston goalkeeper Pat Onstad to spectacularly tip the ball out the top left corner. The freekick, however, proved to be the Red Bulls only threat of the second half.
Houston doubled the score in the 70th minute when Craig Waibel flicked on to Ryan Cochrane, who had remained in the New York penalty area after a busted corner kick. Cochrane slammed the ball past Meola from 10 yards out.
Mullan closed out the scoring for the night in the 78th minute following a lengthy build up down the left flank. Receiving the ball just outside the penalty area, Ching played the ball across to an onrushing Mullan, whose first-time shot found Meola flat-footed.
"When we play one- and two-touch like we did tonight, I think we're a tough team to play against," said Houston coach Dominic Kinnear.
New York: Tony Meola, Marvell Wynne (77 David Arvizu), Jeff Parke (45 Carlos Mendes), Taylor Graham, Ante Jazic, Seth Stammler, Danny O'Rourke, Eddie Gaven, Mike Magee, Youri Djorkaeff, Thiago Martins (64 Peter Canero).
Houston: Pat Onstad, Kevin Goldthwaite, Adrian Serioux, Ryan Cochrane, Kelly Gray (63 Craig Waibel), Wade Barrett (80 Stuart Holden), Ricardo Clark (88 Mike Chabala), Dwayne De Rosario, Brian Mullen (80 Marcus Storey) , Alejandro Moreno (70 Ronald Cerritos), Brian Ching.
Ching (Hou) -- 29th
Cochrane (Hou) -- 70th
Mullan (Hou) -- 78th