- The Houston Dynamo were terrible away from home in 2017, but they came up with a win when it mattered most and advanced to the MLS Western Conference final with a triumph over the Timbers.
The Houston Dynamo won one game on the road all season, struggling mightily away from BBVA Compass Stadium. Come playoff time, that apparently does not matter.
The Dynamo answered the Portland Timbers' opener through an unlikely source and then secured their place in the Western Conference final through Mauro Manotas's second-half thunderbolt, ousting the 2015 MLS Cup champions on their own turf with a 2-1 victory. Houston had been 1-9-7 away from home all season–a paltry 10 points in 17 matches. But as we learn in every MLS postseason, regular-season exploits hardly matter.
Dairon Asprilla's goal in the 39th minute supplied the breakthrough after the two sides played to 0-0 draw in the first leg in Houston, but it was answered almost immediately by Dylan Remick. Manotas supplied the insurance goal in the 77th minute, sending his side through.
The Dynamo, hoping to follow in the footsteps of their neighboring World Series champion Houston Astros, are seeking their first title since 2007 and their first final appearance since 2012. They split the season series with the Sounders, winning 2-1 at home on opening day before falling 1-0 in Seattle in March.
Here are three thoughts on the Dynamo's impressive triumph, which took place without suspended goalkeeper Tyler Deric and injured veteran DaMarcus Beasley:
Former Sounder takes down Timbers
Dylan Remick had one career goal in 58 MLS matches, but the former Seattle Sounders midfielder stayed true to his roots in saving his biggest moment for the Timbers. This well-taken volley gave Houston the away goal it needed to tilt the scales in its favor. It was Manotas's goal that really put Portland to the sword, but Remick being able to answer Asprilla's opener so quickly, and just before halftime, was absolutely deflating for the Timbers.
His efforts did not go unnoticed by his former teammates, who will now be hoping to shut Remick and his new teammates down:
Manotas no stranger to spoiling Timbers' season
Last year, it was a hat trick from the relatively unknown Manotas that helped prevent the defending champion from making the playoffs. Portland missed the postseason by two points, and that result vs. Houston kicked off an 1-3-0 slide to end the season. The hat trick accounted for half of Manotas's goals in 2016. In 2017, Manotas, the 22-year-old Colombian, became more of a scoring fixture for the Dynamo, with 10 goals and added five assists in the regular season. Striking against a side that has been known for cultivating its own young, South American talent, Manotas beat Jeff Attinella from distance with a long-range dagger. Given the away-goal advantage, this go-ahead strike made Portland need two goals in the final 20 minutes, which never came.
Go back to the early stages of the first leg in Houston, when Darlington Nagbe missed his chance to put the Timbers on top. You have to wonder how much of a series-changer that moment would have been, both in terms of the psychological impact of that match, and the away-goal scoreboard that ultimately went Houston's way.
Timbers undone by injury
Whatever is in the water or artisanal coffee in Portland had some kind of an impact on the Timbers. Already down Fanendo Adi and with Sebastian Blanco restricted due to a bizarre boiled-water incident, the Timbers lost starters Diego Chara and Larrys Mabiala to injury in the first leg vs. Houston. Earlier in the week, veteran defender Roy Miller reportedly went down in training with a torn Achilles. Less than a quarter of an hour in on Sunday, starting forward Darren Mattocks went down with an apparent head injury. With about a quarter of an hour to go, Asprilla was dealt a head injury after a nasty and bloody collision with Adolfo Machado.
Portland's depth had been tried and tested plenty late this season, but Sunday's test proved to be one too tall for Caleb Porter's side, which would have welcomed the two-plus-week window between rounds to recover. The most telling stat is the one revolving around Chara. Portland is now 0-9-6 in the last 15 games in all competitions it's played without him.