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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Soccer

Dynamo advance to conference finals in win over Timbers


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The Houston Dynamo ended multiple droughts when they defeated the Portland Timbers 2-1 on Sunday night in Portland. It was the first win in Portland for the Dynamo since 2011 and just the second road win for the Dynamo all year, and it sent Houston to its first conference finals since 2013.

After a nil-nil draw in Houston on Oct. 30, Portland came to the game needing a win while Houston could advance with a non-zero-zero tie or a win due to Major League Soccer’s away goal rules. Both sides earned chances with 12 shots each, but they struggled to finish on their attacking runs.

First year Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera lined up the team in a 4-2-3-1 set with the team’s leading goal scorer Erick “Cubo” Torres as striker, the No. 2 scorer Alberth Elis at right wing and assist leader Alex Lima on the left.

Dylan Remick returned to the starting lineup at left back, replacing the injured DaMarcus Beasley while Philippe Senderos at center back wore the captain’s armband in just his fifth game for the Dynamo.

Joe Willis started at goalkeeper for Tyler Deric, who was suspended earlier this week pending an investigation into assault charges.

Portland was missing multiple key pieces due to injuries, like defensive midfielder Diego Chara, forward Fanendo Adi, defender Larrys Mabiala and defender Roy Miller, who was scheduled to replace Mabiala before rupturing his Achilles tendon during practice Saturday.

Portland head coach Caleb Porter similarly lined up his squad in a 4-2-3-1 set, with Darren Mattocks as the lone striker and star player Diego Valeri at center midfielder.

The Timbers had a dynamic attack centered on Valeri, who was third in goals scored this season with 21.

The Timbers started the game hot and generated their first chance just two minutes into the match, but it was shut down by the Dynamo’s defensive backs.

Unfortunately for the Timbers, the injury bug bit them again when Mattocks collided in air with Dynamo midfielder Juan David Cabezas in the eighth minute. Mattocks did not return and was replaced by rookie Jeremy Ebobisse.

The coordination between Ebobisse and the rest of the Timbers’ front four was not as fine-tuned as with Mattocks. This allowed the Dynamo to create more chances, string together more passes in the back and interrupt the Timbers’ offense.

Portland almost scored in the 23rd minute but Willis made a goal line save to knock the ball out after Portland got a header on a high corner kick.

The Dynamo charged back when midfielder Eric Alexander lifted the ball over a sleeping Portland defense, but Elis could not set a good header and sent it wide of the goal.

The pattern continued with each team getting chances, but neither capitalized until the 39th minute when a slipup by Remick left Portland winger Dairon Asprilla just enough space to settle a well-placed cross from Vytautas “Vytas” Andriuskevicius and shoot it into the upper corner.

Houston struck back just minutes later in the 43rd when Remick made up for his fall by shooting the ball just past goalkeeper Jeff Attinella during a set piece.

The ball was served by Tomas Martinez, redirected to Remick by right back Jalil Anibaba and as Cabezas screened a Timbers’ defender out of the way, Remick shot the ball past Attinella.

At the half, Portland led in almost every statistic beside the one that mattered most. When the second half started, it was déjà vu with the Timbers taking control early, but the game quickly returned to the ebb and flow from the first half.

In the 55th minute, Portland substituted on midfielder Sebastian Blanco for the first time since he suffered second-degree burns on his foot when he dropped boiling water while making tea.

Blanco reinvigorated the Timbers’ attack. They had a chance to score, but Willis dove to stop the ball before Ebobisse could get a foot on it. Ebobisse’s foot collided with Willis’ head and left him lying there, but doctors cleared him and play resumed a couple minutes later.

The Dynamo subbed on Mauro Manotas in the 73rd minute to replace Cubo, and Cabrera wanted him to pick up where he left off in 2016 when Manotas scored four goals in two games against the Timbers.

Manotas rewarded Cabrera’s move by scoring a shot from far outside the box just four minutes later. Manotas picked up a pass, took a look up and saw he had plenty of space, so he wound up a shot and sent it past Attinella, who misjudged the bouncing ball.

Bad luck struck again for Portland when Vytas left the game in the 80th minute after being stepped on when he and a Dynamo player came down from an air ball.

The final minutes of the game were frantic as the Timbers threw everything forward to score, but the orange defenders prevented them from moving the ball inside.

Portland launched one final attack, but the ball went wide of the net. As Willis brought the ball back into play, the referee blew his whistle, and Houston moved on to the next round to face the Seattle Sounders.

Portland will have to think about next season and what could have been if the team had not been hampered by so many major injuries. The No. 1 seed in the West now gets to heal, and if their top form returns, it will be a fearsome team in 2018.

The Dynamo will heal for a couple weeks while the league goes on a break to respect ongoing international games. Not everyone gets to rest though. Elis, Boniek and striker Romell Quioto will be joining the Honduran national team to play Australia’s Socceroos for one of the last spots in the 2018 World Cup.

Houston will face the Seattle Sounders at 9 p.m. on Nov. 21 at BBVA Compass Stadium in the first leg of the two-game conference finals.

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