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.
Andrew Mosier is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.
Houston Dynamo 3, New York Red Bulls 0
Blackbaud Stadium, Charleston, S.C.
HOU: Brian Ching (Brian Mullan) 29'
HOU: Ryan Cochrane (Craig Waibel) 70'
HOU: Brian Mullan (Kevin Goldthwaite, Brian Ching) 78'
New York Red Bulls: Tony Meola, Ante Jazic (Steve Jolley 70'), Jeff Parke (Carlos Mendes 46'), Taylor Graham, Marvell Wynne (David Arvizu 76'), Seth Stammler, Daniel O'Rourke, Eddie Gaven, Mike Magee, Youri Djorkaeff, Thiago Martins (Peter Canero 64')
Houston Dynamo: Pat Onstad, Kevin Goldthwaite, Adrian Serioux, Ryan Cochrane, Kelly Gray (Craig Waibel 63'), Wade Barrett (Stuart Holden 80'), Dwayne DeRosario, Ricardo Clark (Mike Chabala 88'), Brian Mullan (Marcus Storey 80'), Alejandro Moreno (Ronald Cerritos 70'), Brian Ching
NYRB: Ante Jazic, Caution, 36'
HOU: Adrian Serioux, Caution, 61'
NYRB: Danny O'Rourke, Caution, 85'
Officials: Gus St. Silvo, Gregory Barkey, Kermit Quisenberry, Jeff Muschik
Weather: 54 degrees, clear
SWITCHING SIDES: Danny O'Rourke, who was acquired by the Red Bulls Friday afternoon, started in the midfield for New York while the player who he was traded for -- Adrian Serioux -- started in the backline for Houston.
CAPTAINS: Tony Meola was the captain for the Red Bulls while Wade Barrett donned the armband for Dynamo. Once Barrett was replaced in the 80th minute, the band was given to Dwayne De Rosario.
O CANADA: Three Canadians were in the starting lineup in Saturday's match -- Ante Jazic for New York, and De Rosario and Adrian Serioux for Dynamo.
4-4-2: The Red Bulls started with four in the back for the second time in Challenge Cup action, after playing a 3-5-2 against Charleston on Wednesday. When Peter Canero subbed in for Thiago Martins in the 64th minute, Seth Stammler moved up top, while Canero played on the right side in the midfield. However, when David Arvizu came on in the 76th minute for Marvell Wynne, Canero moved to the back, while Arvizu played wide right in the middle.