Dynamo win Eastern Conference on aggregate after tie
Injuries and suspensions. Weather and rescheduled matches. Nothing had kept D.C. United from rediscovering its penchant for drama and taste for the postseason.
But the limits of adversity were reached in the Eastern Conference finals, in which a two-goal deficit after one game finally was too much to overcome. A 1-1 draw with Houston in Sunday's second leg before an impassioned, season-best crowd of 20,015 at RFK Stadium gave the Dynamo a place in MLS Cup with a 4-2 aggregate score. United's disappointment was tempered by achievements that hadn't been considered possible a few months before.
"I'm glad we hung on this long," United coach Ben Olsen said. "It shows the credit and the spirit that this group has."
United had the possession (63 percent to 37 percent) and patient aggression (16 shots) required to overcome a 3-1 loss at Houston the week before. But it was still timid in front of the net, especially without injured leading scorer Chris Pontius (groin) among a fresh batch of injuries. The experienced Dynamo had as many shots on goal as United in the first half -- one -- and that was enough to put the series out of reach.
In the 34th minute, Houston midfielder Brad Davis slid a pass with the outside of his left foot to a cutting Boniek Garcia, who powered it over the shoulder of United goalkeeper Bill Hamid from seven yards.
"As much as this game was about the offense and having to score a bunch of goals, it was also about keeping them off the board, right?" Olsen said. "It hurt. We knew it."
Reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2007, United was unbeaten in its final seven regular-season matches despite losing Dwayne De Rosario to a knee injury in September. On Sunday, De Rosario entered in the 62nd minute for the first time since that injury, hoping to repeat what he had done in 2003 with San Jose, which rallied from a two-goal deficit against Los Angeles.
"We had the chances to do that tonight," De Rosario said. "Unfortunately it didn't go our way. We were able to get one, but honestly it wasn't enough. Just the character that guys showed throughout this year and the dedication and the unity we showed as a team was fantastic."
It was too late when Branko Boskovic sliced through the Houston defense to score in the 83rd minute.
D.C. United also had defied the weather when superstorm Sandy forced the relocation of the first match of a two-game semifinal series against New York. The second match in New York also was delayed after a nor'easter, and United prevailed by a one-goal margin despite a red card for Hamid.
Hamid's statement after that match -- "They can't hold us back" -- inspired a dramatic display from D.C. United supporters at the start of Sunday's game, with two versions of the rallying cry stretching across one full side of RFK.
"I didn't even see it at first," Hamid said. "To turn around when I got in goal and saw what they did, it was unbelievable."