HOUSTON — Perhaps you’ve seen those Southwest Airlines commercials “wanna get away?”
The ads usually depict someone who has endured a no good, very bad, absolutely horrible day. Well, on Sunday, the slogan would apply to Sporting Kansas City, who once again lost to the Houston Dynamo in a playoff setting.
Houston won the first leg of its Eastern Conference semifinal 2-0 over the one team in Major League Soccer that rarely loses away from home.
All of that sounds nice, if you are a Houstonian, a soccer snob, or someone who just happened to catch the match on television. But, this is soccer, and on a fall Sunday in Texas, some things just are not too high on one’s sporting docket.
Sunday’s match was just the type of atmosphere that can convert the most dedicated soccer atheist into, perhaps, a casual convert.
An announced crowd of 20, 689 screamed, threw streamers and chanted its way through a very warm afternoon for the first weekend in November.
Though he praised Houston for being a good side, Sporting head coach Peter Vermes mentioned everything from the temperatures, to the pitch, to the dimensions of said pitch as well as a “tactical decision” by the home side attributed to his team losing for just the fifth time in 18 road contests this year.
Houston’s Adam Moffat hit a howitzer from 28 yards away in the 18th minute to open the scoring. Even the midfielder wasn’t exactly sure how the ball fell to him. All he knew was he caught it pretty well and the crowd exploded.
Until that point, it was one of the few times Houston was able to get up the field in the attacking third.
But these are the MLS playoffs. Goals seemingly come from nowhere, incredible scoring opportunities go begging, and there is almost always a stunning result along the way.
It makes for interesting viewing — whether in person, or at home — for those who are brave enough to publicly admit they watched soccer during football season.
“It was a goal to celebrate,” said Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear of Moffat’s blast. “The fans loved it, the players loved it, so it gave us some energy, as it always does. Anytime you score a goal it gives you confidence, a boost of energy.”
Houston is undefeated in 29 matches in the Bayou City. The Dynamo also has a five match unbeaten streak against Sporting Kansas City, including a pair of 2-0 playoff victories in that stretch.
“It’s not an easy field to play on. It’s 68 yards wide. Most pitches in the league are 75 (yards),” Vermes said, when asked about his right back Chance Myers getting into the attack.
“There is a design to that. You play a tight field. It’s a little bit harder to get overlapping and getting into the attack at times. Look, we’re playing away from home. They have to drive the game. Like I said, their guys played well and they deserved the two goals.”
Indeed the Dynamo did. On a home field that is officially listed as 70 yards wide.
Will Bruin’s 75th minute goal came from a looped ball by Houston’s Brad Davis, into the position Myers vacated going up field. Calen Carr ran onto the ball, fed a cross to Bruin and the second-year player put home his third goal of the playoffs.
“We battled hard, scored two great goals,” Kinnear said. “We knew Kansas City was going to come out and make it difficult for us, which they did. I don’t think it’s going to change come Wednesday.”
Considering the two teams will meet in Kansas City, many involved noted the home-and-home series being at halftime. Soccer may trail other Americans sports in many areas, but spouting clichés are certainly not among them.
On a picturesque afternoon in downtown Houston, just about everyone enjoyed themselves — except for the team that, coincidentally, had to catch a commercial Southwest flight back to Missouri.