KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Houston Dynamo are headed to their second straight Eastern Conference Championship, and they have their resolute defense – and some wayward finishing from Sporting KC – to thank for the honor.
In front of a wild crowd of 20,894, Sporting Kansas City came up just short in their quest to erase a 2-0 first-leg deficit in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They huffed and puffed, but in the end, their finishing just wasn’t up to snuff, wining 1-0 but allowing the Dynamo to survive 2-1 on aggregate despite having just 29 percent of the possession.
Seth Sinovic scored the lone goal for SKC via a diving second-half header, as Sporting racked up 20 attempts shots, 31 open-play crosses and five corner kicks. Houston managed just three shots, none in the second half, as they focused on defending their narrow lead in the face of unrelenting SKC pressure.
Still, it didn’t matter. Houston’s effort in the first leg was more than enough, and they’ll go on to face the winner of the New York and D.C. United, who will play their second leg Thursday at 7:30 pm ET after inclement weather postponed proceedings at Red Bull Arena.
From the very start, Sporting KC played like a team with their season hanging by a thread, but despite wave after wave of attacks, they couldn’t truly test Tally Hall in the Dynamo goal as Houston kept 10 men behind the ball.
The first real opportunity came in the 19th minute, when a bad touch by Kei Kamara slipped fortuitously into the right channel for C.J. Sapong, but his shot was directly at Hall. Minutes later, Kamara set up Zusi with a square ball across the penalty box, but Zusi’s right-footed effort landed high in the stands.
Sporting kept Houston on the back foot, and were just inches away from pulling back the first goal in the 26th minute after a slick bit of build up. Rosell started the move by slipping the ball through to Roger Espinoza, who laid it off for Zusi. With Houston caught ball watching, Zusi played Chance Myers in behind and the right back squared for Kamara, whose goal-bound shot was blocked by Bobby Boswell.
Houston, content to force Kansas City into wide areas and defend service from the flanks, was fortunate that Sporting struggled to find a final touch once again after a half hour. Kamara, ever a threat in the air, nodded a diagonal ball into the path of Sapong, but the second-year man couldn’t gather and shoot with enough pace to trouble Hall.
Of little consolation for Kansas City after a frustrating first half was their dominance on the score sheet – 73-percent possession and 11 open-play crosses to the Dynamo’s zero.
Those trends continued in the second half, but Sinovic eventually found the breakthrough in the 64th minute. Kamara drove the ball into the final third with a trademark run, laying off to a streaking Zusi, who lifted the ball to the back post for a diving header by the overlapping left back.
That ignited both Sporting KC and the crowd, and the home side put the screws to a Houston side that struggled to find the ball for any extended period.
An equalizer nearly came in the 75th minute, but Peterson Joseph’s perfectly weighted ball toward the penalty area was chipped over the bar by Sapong with Hall bearing down on him.
From there, however, Houston’s defense, led by veteran Bobby Boswell, who had his second straight standout performance, put the clamps on and protected the result. With it, the fifth-seeded Dynamo celebrated for the second straight year at LSP, a spot where few other teams have had success in the building’s brief history.
The first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship will be at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday at 4 pm ET on NBC Sports Network.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Kei Kamara||Is there any doubt he's among the league's elite players? Even when his finishing is off, he makes a difference on both ends.|
|2||Seth Sinovic||Good timing for his first goal of the season, and his usual end-to-end 90 minutes on top of it. Always a threat for the hosts.|
|3||Bobby Boswell||This was as committed a rearguard action as any MLS team has turned in in recent memory, and Boswell's the biggest reason it worked.|