HOUSTON – The Houston Dynamo have been a different team since the return of Ricardo Clark, but on Friday night he may have made his most tangible impact to date in a 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact.
The former US international scored the lone goal of the game just six minutes in, and the Dynamo held firm for the remaining 84 to claim three points, increasing their total to 47 and moving them one ahead of the Impact, who drop to fourth place but have a game in hand on their Friday hosts.
Clark's goal came after strong buildup play that saw Boniek Garcia find Giles Barnes at the top of the box. The forward chested a perfect ball into the path of the onrushing Clark, who cut back to create space for a shot that curled away from goalkeeper Troy Perkins and nestled in the back of the net. It was Clark's second game-winning goal in the last four games -- he headed in the winner at Philadelphia on Sept. 14 -- and his fourth of the season, a new career high.
The early salvo looked like a sign of things to come but ultimately proved to be one of the few highlights in a stagnant first half.
The half ended with just six shots as the two clubs engaged in a battle for midfield supremacy. Without the services of Alessandro Nesta, Hernán Bernardello and midfield fulcrum Patrice Bernier – a late scratch – the Impact struggled to muster an attack as Houston put their stamp on the game, mainly through the play of Clark, Garcia and Warren Creavalle.
It took Montreal 45 minutes to muster their first good chance off the foot of Felipe Martins, but his shot from distance was deflected by Tally Hall, and the rebound came to nothing as the half ended without excitement.
Houston changed the flow of things early in the second half. After Clark fired an early shot off target, Houston put the Impact’s goal under intense pressure in the minutes to follow.
In the span of two minutes, Brad Davis got two shots off, the first after a great run by Garcia down the middle that was stopped only by a Perkins kick save, and the second on a dangerous free kick that the Impact ‘keeper pushed over the bar.
The Impact were happy to escape that flurry without any further damage and nearly took advantage in the 69th minute when second-half sub Andrew Wenger brought life to the Montreal attack. First he set up Davy Arnaud for a shot in box that was blocked by Bobby Boswell but sparked fervent penalty shouts from the Impact after it appeared to strike the defender's arm.
Minutes later, Andrés Romero put Wenger free on goal, and only a sprawling Hall saw the Dynamo save their advantage, and ultimately a valuable win.
Houston will stay home and take on Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday night with a chance to leapfrog that team into second place in the East, while the Impact next host the New England Revolution on Oct. 12.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Boniek Garcia||Played one of his best games of 2013 and was a terror down the right, creating Houston's best chances and doing good work defensively|
|2||Warren Creavalle||Clark will take the plaudits for the goal, but Creavalle was an absolute force in the middle, forcing turnovers, making recovries and distributing well|
|3||Andrew Wenger||Montreal looked lifeless until Wenger entered, at which point he found himself in the middle of the Impact's two best chances of the game|