What a difference a play makes.
Just a stoppage time whistle away from heading into the locker room tied 0-0 on the road, a 45th-minute handball proved to be the Houston Dynamo’s undoing in a 1-0 loss Wednesday night to the LA Galaxy.
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A long range shot from LA’s Chris Birchall – who replaced the absent David Beckham in the lineup for LA – deflected off Lovel Palmer’s upper arm and won LA a penalty kick. Landon Donovan converted from the spot and sent the Dynamo to the locker room having conceded what turned out to be the game winner on another period-ending play.
“I haven’t seen the call on the penalty yet but from where we were standing, it really didn’t look like it [was a handball]," said Brad Davis after the game. "And Lovel said that it didn’t hit him in the hand, it hit in the chest.”
Conceding in the dying minutes of the first half robbed Houston of any momentum they could have taken from bottling up the potent LA attack in the first 45 minutes. The Dynamo defense made several key plays in dangerous spots to keep the LA attack off the scoreboard.
However, down a goal, the Dynamo saw a much different LA team in the second half. Sitting on the lead, Bruce Arena’s club settled in on defense and picked their spots on the counter. With the Galaxy sitting back, Houston struggled to create chances in the second half and ultimately came up short of finding a late winner.
“We did do some good things,” said Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear. “We started the game pretty good and then we hit a lull in the second half where we were sloppy with our passing. We stopped going forward. We didn’t do enough in and around the box.”
Now Houston head home for another quick turnaround to face FC Dallas in what is their fourth straight game against a top MLS opponent. It the Dynamo's last chance to score three points in the month of May, and the next chance to regain their finishing form.
“We worked hard,” said Geoff Cameron. “It’s just one of those that you have to take on the chin a little bit and we have a game Saturday, so we are looking forward to that.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.