Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
CARSON, Calif. — Down their MVP finalist playmaker and lacking in inspiration, the Houston Dynamo in the 2011 MLS Cup final didn’t put up much of a fight. The 1-0 score, it’s safe to say, was quite kind.
So when the Dynamo found themselves with a chance at MLS Cup redemption Saturday, facing the same Los Angeles Galaxy side that handled them a year ago, they were determined to fare better this time around.
Sure enough, Houston ventured forward with far greater authority. But it turned out to simply be a detour en route to the same unenviable destination.
“We played well today,” Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win the game, and that’s the tough part.”
In Houston’s 3-1 loss at the Home Depot Center, the Dynamo enjoyed several stretches of positive play. They came out firing, forcing Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders into some early nervous moments. Midway through the half, right back Kofi Sarkodie nearly converted a dangerous chance.
And just before halftime, Calen Carr opened the scoring with a clinical run and finish, using his pace to slip behind rookie Tommy Meyer before latching onto Adam Moffat’s lofted pass and beating Saunders with a rising point-blank shot.
“Last year was almost the feeling that we couldn’t go forward,” Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall said. “This year, we went forward.”
Although Galaxy midfielder David Beckham enjoyed his fair share of influential moments in the first half, including the long ball that keyed a golden opportunity missed by Landon Donovan, the Dynamo felt they controlled enough of the game and applied the necessary pressure to contain the Englishman, if not stop him altogether.
“We can’t come here, sit back and give them a bunch of space and let them play,” said Houston midfielder Brad Davis, who missed last year’s final with a quad injury after leading MLS with 16 assists. “I think we did well, and what we were trying to do is press high and not letting David just get on the ball and play balls all over the field.”
But it turned out the Dynamo only were delaying the inevitable. As the Galaxy applied increasing pressure to start the second half, it became apparent Houston was beginning to crack.
When Omar Gonzalez equalized with a 61st-minute header, the floodgates opened. As the 30,510 came alive, Los Angeles got its second four minutes later courtesy of a Donovan penalty kick.
Still, Houston had chances to knot the game late, with Saunders stopping a Will Bruin bid and Brian Ching’s effort going just wide.
“We didn’t back down,” Kinnear said. “We still went and got good looks at goal, some good situations.”
Once Robbie Keane’s stoppage-time penalty kick put the game out of reach, however, Houston had to cope with the realization that despite playing with much more confidence than they did last year, the disappointment of defeat could not be avoided.
“You just have to look back and look at the positives,” Davis said. “Unfortunately, things obviously didn’t go our way this year. But this is a group of guys that’s going to be ready to turn things around and get back to work and try to make things right for next year.”