Of the eight teams at the MLS is Back Tournament who failed to qualify for the knockout stages, perhaps none exit as painfully as the Houston Dynamo.
La Naranja produced one of the event’s early head-turning results with their wild 3-3 draw with favorites LAFC, then saw a late comeback fall short in a 2-1 loss to the Portland Timbers and capped their Group F slate with a painful 1-1 draw vs. the LA Galaxy – where they led for 73 minutes only to be undone by a controversial injury-time penalty kick decision.
“We're extremely, extremely disappointed with the result,” defender Zarek Valentin said postgame. “Definitely we’re gutted, and we should be. It's always difficult to give up a goal so late in the game.”
The decisive penalty was whistled by referee Victor Rivas for a foul away from the ball by Maynor Figueroa – who’d entered the game just minutes before – on LA’s Diedie Traore as he marked the fullback on a Galaxy corner kick.
Both Valentin and coach Tab Ramos said they were unable to comment in depth on the PK decision without reviewing the footage. But Ramos suggested that it wasn’t the first time his side were hard done by officiating decisions in the tourney.
The former US U-20 coach expressed pride in his players’ commitment and character both on Thursday and throughout MLS is Back, while acknowledging that his team were “just trying to hold the result” as they soaked up Galaxy pressure for most of the second half after proving unable to build on the lead provided to them by Darwin Quintero’s 17th-minute free-kick strike. They were also missing key attacker Alberth Elis due to his red card against Portland.
“Unfortunate event in the 90th minute but I'm proud of the team,” Ramos said. “The team fought and I really couldn't ask them for more today.
“I'm really happy for all the teams that MLS was able to put this together. I think it's a great tournament. Unfortunately, we can't stay in it. That's what we wanted and that's what we planned on.”
The Dynamo are still establishing their identity under Ramos and their competitive displays in a daunting group seem to have fueled their belief in the project.
“Ultimately, I think our team made strides in this tournament, and I hope that we have a season in some shape or form to keep progressing,” said Valentin. “Tab has been putting in a lot of work with the guys and we've worked our cojones off, from our individual sessions in Houston in the heat, and to battle and to continue to get two points in a tough group.
“I'm proud of the guys' fight, we've fought like dogs. Guys put in such a good shift,” he added. “We're going to be disappointed and we should be, because we should be going through to the next round. We should be staying here. But some of those things are out of your control and you have to take those punches and move forward.”