What a difference two months can make.
Sunday’s 2-0 victory in the Eastern Conference Championship against Sporting Kansas City came nearly two months to the day after the Houston Dynamo defense was undone by the same side in a crushing 3-0 defeat.
That setback was the last loss suffered by the Dynamo, and the result prompted Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear to pull 2009 MLS Best XI defender Geoff Cameron from the central midfield and return him to the center of the defense. A different group with Cameron anchoring the line, Houston returned to Livestrong Sporting Park on Sunday and shut down the attack that caused them so many troubles on Sept. 10, booking their place in the MLS Cup final in the process.
“It was a fantastic team effort,” Cameron said. “Guys were covering for each other. Jermaine [Taylor] stepped in and the team didn’t miss a beat and it showed our depth. … We denied them service or were there to clear the ball out, and I think they got pretty frustrated.”
Sunday’s result is the latest in a long line of big performances from the Dynamo defense. Since Kinnear shuffled his back four - other factors in Cameron's initial move included Luiz Camargo's emergence in midfield and a rest for Andre Hainault - Houston have given up just six goals – four in the run of play – during a nine-game unbeaten streak that has included key contributions from every player called into duty. In fact, when Cameron starts on defense this year, Houston have a goals against average of 0.80, compared to a 1.26 mark in all other games, and that includes a 2-0 loss in Cameron's first defensive start of the year back on June 4.
And with the defense playing at such a high level, confidence has spread throughout the team. Nowhere has that been more evident than in the playoffs, during which the Dynamo have scored five goals while allowing just one through three games.
“In the playoffs, especially the last two games, we haven’t given up a lot,” Kinnear said. “Philadelphia had their chances in the second half of the first game, but the last two games I thought, defensively, we looked very strong and confident.”
Headed to the MLS Cup final for the third time in six years, the Dynamo enter the Nov. 20 clash against the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center hoping to parlay their stingy defensive play into a third title. Once again, Houston will call on Cameron and his mates to propel them to their ultimate goal against another powerful attack in the Galaxy.
“It comes down to team defense,” Brian Ching said. “We’re one of the first teams to shut [Kansas City] out in months. [Going into the final] we’re a team playing really well right now, and that’s a must at this point.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.