Three thoughts on the Houston Dynamo’s easy 3-0 win over the visiting Montreal Impact in Thursday’s MLS Eastern Conference knockout round game.
Clockwork orange – As the leaves start to fall, the Dynamo peak. It’s a given. No MLS club has a better playoff series winning percentage, and once again coach Dom Kinnear’s team seems to be rounding into form at the right moment.
The two-time defending Eastern champs finished the regular season in fourth place, but the Dynamo (15-11-9) have proven time and again they can turn it on in the playoffs. Montreal defeated Houston, 5-0, just two months ago. Roles were reversed Thursday at BBVA Compass Stadium.
The Dynamo played with confidence, taking the ample space the Impact yielded and leaving the visitors in full retreat. The most welcome sight for coach Dom Kinnear surely was the performance of forward Will Bruin, who ended a month-long scoring drought with two goals. Both were excellent finishes.
In the 16th minute, he collected a deft heel pass from Ricardo Clark and curled a shot past goalkeeper Troy Perkins and inside the right post. In the 72nd, Bruin headed a high ball over Matteo Ferrari at midfield, then outran the defender before rounding Perkins and slotting it home.
"It's good to see [Bruin] score goals. It seemed like he really enjoyed that second one,” Kinnear told reporters.
Bruin fell short of expectations this season, scoring only eight goals. But he came through in the playoffs, just like his team. Again.
Montreal Meltdown – The Impact’s 1-6-1 record over the regular season stretch run was just a preview of Thursday’s implosion in Houston. The occasion clearly was too big for the club, which just concluded its second MLS season.
Coach Marco Schällibaum was too desperate to spark his squad, overthought things and benched midfielders Patrice Bernier, Felipe Martins and Davy Arnaud. Bernier has been dealing with a hip injury and neither Martins nor Arnaud has been performing that well, but they’re still among the club’s best players. Schällibaum’s also reconfigured his back line and inserted Nelson Rivas into the middle. The Colombian veteran hadn’t played a minute this season. He was a disaster.
The Impact couldn’t keep up with Houston. Their only option was to pound the ball forward to Marco Di Vaio and hope.
Meanwhile, Montreal (14-14-7) made bad decisions. Midfielder Hernán Bernardello committed a pointless foul on Houston’s Oscar Boniek Garcia in the 26th minute, which resulted in a penalty kick and the Dynamo’s second goal. Rivas was fortunate to avoid ejection in the 35th after hitting Houston’s Giles Barnes in the face. In the 70th, he put an elbow to Bruin’s head and was sent off. In the final minutes, both Di Vaio and reserve forward Andrés Romero were ejected following a fracas that started when Romero kicked Dynamo defender Kofi Sarkodie.
Romero later tweeted:
The Impact trailed by three goals and three players. From the coach through the substitutes, Montreal – the anti-Dynamo -- lost its nerve.
Will ghosts be a factor? – The Dynamo played well on Halloween (although the small crowd should leave MLS rethinking holiday scheduling). But there’s a scarier week ahead. Houston has been haunted by the New York Red Bulls, who they’ll face in the Eastern Conference semis.
The Supporters Shield winners defeated the Dynamo three times this season by a combined 7-1, including twice at BBVA Compass Stadium. There’s also a bit of history between the two clubs. Three of the Dynamo’s four postseason eliminations came in one-game playoffs against the L.A. Galaxy. The other came in a stunning home-and-home loss to the Red Bulls back in 2008. New York’s 3-0 win in Houston that year remains one of the most stunning results in MLS annals.
Will Houston’s playoff mojo be enough to overcome a top-seeded opponent that has its number?
“The law of ratios would maybe say we’re due to owe them one,” Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell said. “But you never know what will happen. It’s all about how you prepare.” Houston has two days. The opener is Sunday.