HOUSTON – In a match with four goals, the decisive play in Sunday's Eastern Conference Championship first leg was the one that kept the ball out of the net – and it came from a player using his head.
In the 66th minute, D.C. United looked primed to take a 2-1 lead when Robbie Russell set up forward Lionard Pajoy with a clear look from the penalty spot. However, Houston defender Bobby Boswell made a sprinting recovery to head Pajoy’s strike off the line.
The header itself was a star moment, but it came about because of Boswell’s ability to read the game.
During the play, the defender saw that his goalkeeper Tally Hall initially stepped toward Pajoy. Thinking he would be caught out of position, Boswell reacted.
“He thought he took the wrong step, but because of the way he stepped to the ball, he forced me to drop,” Boswell said. “If he stays, maybe I try to come across and I don’t get there in time.
“You have nightmares as a defender of being on the line and the ball goes right by you,” he added. “I’m fortunate it was head high and I was able to get my big noggin on it.”
Boswell’s use of that “big noggin” cleared the way for a combination between Giles Barnes and Will Bruin minutes later that would put the home team ahead for good en route to a 3-1 win.
“That’s a huge play,” head coach Dominic Kinnear said about Boswell's clearance. “To get to 1-1, we had come back and were riding high. And if we go down 2-1 it’s a bit of a blow.”
Subs come up big
In a match where players were dropping like flies on both sides, Houston’s replacements made the difference. Andre Hainault filled in once again at centerback for Jermaine Taylor and scored the first goal, while midfielders Luiz Camargo and Barnes, in for Ricardo Clark and Adam Moffat, sparked scoring plays late to pad the lead.
“They played like men,” Boswell said. “Credit to all of the guys that came on and did their job. That’s what the coaches asked of them and they have done quite well to keep that going.”
WATCH: Sarkodie caps Dynamo scoring
Memorable first for Sarkodie
For all the praise second-year right back Kofi Sarkodie has received for his defensive play as a late-year starter, his most memorable moment may have come with Sunday’s 81st-minute goal that capped a standout second half for the Dynamo.
“The kid’s battled ever since he’s gotten the chance to play,” left back Corey Ashe said. “I was really happy for him. It was a good finish and it was a good ball by Luiz. It was definitely what we needed, that’s for sure.”
Bruin strikes again
Will Bruin does not seem to enjoy making D.C.’s life miserable, but it just happens that way. The second-year striker continued to terrorize the capital club with a 68th-minute goal, his seventh career goal against DC in six matches.
“I think it’s just match-ups,” Boswell said. “Great credit to him to get that goal. It’s a goal scorer’s goal and if he keeps scoring against D.C., I’ll take it.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.