HOUSTON – In a match that was shrouded in frustration over poor play and questionable refereeing, an appeal for calm is what proved decisive.
After a first half that had the Houston Dynamo reeling both mentally and on the scoreboard on Tuesday night, the MLS side regrouped at halftime despite being 1-0 down to Honduran club Olimpia and on the brink of eilmination from the CONCACAF Champions League.
The Dynamo were rewarded for their improved play in the second half with a 65th-minute equalizer that allowed Houston to win Group 3 and move on to the CCL quarterfinals just days after clinching an MLS Cup playoff berth.
“I was really happy with the second half performance,” said Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear, who was ejected in the 40th minute. “I think our second half was much better and it was a great goal by Andre [Hainault] and we qualified for the quarterfinals. So it’s been a great three or four days for the guys and for the club. Really happy with the response and the way we handled ourselves in the second half.”
The need for the mental reboot came after a first half that was a perfect storm of frustration.
Olimpia needed a win to advance and proved the better side in the first half. The visitors' 21st-minute goal and some disputed referee calls knocked the Dynamo off their game.
“I think it was a combination of us not playing well and the refereeing was definitely a factor for some of the frustrations we had in the first half,” Dynamo forward Brian Ching said. “I think we got frustrated in the first half and came in [at halftime] and just accepted it and came out with a different attitude in the second half.”
Houston came out of the break and the change in their approach was evident.
“It took us a little while to adjust,” Houston's Calen Carr admitted. “At halftime we said, ‘Let’s focus on what we can control, get back to basics and play hard and not worry about the referee.’”
The change in mentality worked and in a match with plenty of blows, both real and phantom, the one that mattered most was delivered by central defenders Nathan Sturgis and Hainault in the 65th minute.
“We knew if we’d just be patient our chance would come,” Hainault said. “We’re really happy about it and we managed the game well, so we’re happy with it.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.