1) Frank Klopas and the Fire would like to imitate Houston’s consistency. They’re not there just yet.
The Dynamo won’t win any awards for aesthetics – unless, perhaps, your name is Boniek García – but they are going to be pragmatic, dedicated and threatening from set pieces, the attacking well, so to speak, with the water drawn by Brad Davis.
That was the basic recipe at Toyota Park on Wednesday night, surprising exactly no one, and when Houston got in positions to take advantage, they made no mistake against a shockingly lethargic Fire side that seemed unable to slow down Brad Davis and Corey Ashe on the left flank or put their opponents under real pressure.
Apart from Patrick Nyarko, Chicago had very little life at home, and seemed almost resigned to an early playoff exit when they went down 2-0 as a result of a couple defensive hiccups. And that’s not an indictment of their preference to sit back and wait for a chance to counter, either. They simply didn’t look up to it for long stretches. That's inexcusable, and frankly shocking, in a one-off scenario.
Sure, Dominic Oduro made a difference off the bench, fellow sub Alex pulled one back and the Fire created a flurry of opportunities in the final 15 minutes, but Houston looked like a team far better prepared for the task at hand – a winner-take-all 90 minutes.
2) Chris Rolfe … meet Adam Moffat.
Chicago admitted in the lead-up to the match that opponents were keying on Rolfe, disrupting their attack and contributing to a rough five-game stretch to end the regular season.
Well, Houston didn’t deviate from the recent recipe for success against the Fire, assigning Adam Moffat to shadow him in the space just in front of the backline (check out their overlapping heat maps in the MatchCenter). Moffat rarely ventured past the edge of the center circle, and at the end of the night, Rolfe had one shot off target, one key pass and very little to show for his 90-minute shift from an attacking perspective.
The few times the Fire playmaker was able to find the ball with space to turn, he was either surrounded quickly by Dynamo defenders or forced to play the ball short, giving Houston time to get numbers behind the ball and stifle any chance for Chicago to break at pace. And when he did turn in a moment of brilliance, weaving through a handful of defenders, Sherjill MacDonald was caught offside to spoil the chance.
The Fire clearly knew how teams were slowing them down, and yet Rolfe still spent most of his time in the space where it was easiest for Moffat to track his movement. This was an opportunity to get a little creative and force Houston to deal with Rolfe coming from an area of the field and at an angle they weren’t expecting.
3) If you don’t try, you won’t succeed. A lesson in persistence from Will Bruin.
You’d be hard pressed to call either of Bruin’s goals clinical, but that’s not the burly forward’s game at this point in his young career. He’s going to sniff out as many chances as his churning legs can get him on the end of, put the ball on target and hope it’s enough to prompt a dancing bear routine in the corner.
GOAL: Bruin finds far post, makes it 2-0
And while it may not always be exhilarating to watch, it’s definitely effective, as the Fire were reminded at the least opportune time.
On the opener, a scuffed corner-kick header after a slip-up from his marker, Jalil Anibaba, goalkeeper Sean Johnson appeared to react late and the ball snuck inside the near post.
Even more baffling was the fact that the Fire didn’t position a defender on either post, which almost certainly would have prevented the goal. Still, Bruin made the cutting run and put his header on target. In short, he did exactly what was asked of him.
The second strike was more opportunistic, as Bruin slipped into space between Austin Berry and Arne Friedrich before applying a steadying touch then finding the far corner. Johnson will probably be unhappy to be beaten on the play – he looked nervous and unassertive for much of the match – but Bruin was in the right place at the right time and gave himself a chance to be successful.
That’s all Kinnear can ask for, and if he gets a few more postseason goals out of Bruin, the Dynamo may find themselves back in MLS Cup.