In need of a win to clinch a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs, the Houston Dynamo took care of business on the final day of the regular season.
Goals from Boniek Garcia and Giles Barnes propelled the Dynamo to a 2-1 victory over D.C. United on Sunday at RFK Stadium and ensured the club its seventh postseason appearance in eight years.
Meanwhile, the loss saw United set a new MLS record for fewest victories in a season (3), one fewer than Chivas USA in 2005. But Kyle Porter's goal for United in the 27th minute ensured the club would not share the league record for the fewest goals scored in a season.
Dominic Kinnear’s club (14-11-9, 51 points) beat United (3-24-7, 16 points) for the third time this year. They must now await the result of Sunday afternoon’s matches involving the New England Revolution and Chicago Fire to see what seed they will have once the playoffs begin. Currently, the Dynamo are in third place.
In a rematch between 2012’s Eastern Conference finalists, it was dream start for Houston, who took the lead in the 11th minute and are now an MLS-best 13-0-3 this year when scoring first. Conversely, D.C. went 0-20-2 when conceding first.
Working against United defender James Riley, Barnes was taken down on the near side of the box and referee Armando Villarreal pointed to the spot. Garcia’s solid penalty kick, which beat goalkeeper Bill Hamid low and to his left even though he guessed right, was his third of the season and put the Dynamo ahead 1-0.
Playing without minutes leader Perry Kitchen, suspended for yellow card accumulation, and with several key players sidelined by injury, D.C. didn't back down and even seemed to gain the upperhand after surviving an initial onslaught.
United’s equalizer came in the 27th minute, when Chris Pontius made a brilliant run toward the end line on the left side. His lifted cross to the far-post was met by Porter, a late addition to the starting XI after Collin Martin was scratched. He outjumped the defender and headed the ball down past Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall for his third goal of the season. He finishes the season tied with Dwayne De Rosario and Luis Silva for most goals on the team.
Then as has been the case so frequently this year, United’s ineffectiveness in the final third reared its head. In the 36th minute, on a 2-on-0 break with only Hall to beat, Conor Doyle passed to De Rosario, who muffed the touch and couldn’t send the ball into an open net.
Three minutes later, Houston got the game-winner. Following two sensational saves by Hamid to rob both Will Bruin and Brad Davis on clear scoring opportunities, Davis lined up the resulting corner. The Dynamo have long exploited D.C. on set pieces and did so again this time as Barnes beat his mark, Silva, and nodded the service by Hamid for his team-leading ninth goal of the season.
Beside the penalty call, United’s coaching staff were livid with Villarreal on two occasions that might have gone United's way. Twice, United felt they deserved a penalty of their own, once for a potential handball by Dynamo defender Corey Ashe in the box at the end of the first half and again when Pontius was taken down in the box by Eric Brunner in the 48th minute.
Regardless, the match concluded with the Dynamo on top and waiting to find out who their first opponents will be in the playoffs as they attempt to get back to the MLS Cup final for a third consecutive time.
"We know our group can get to the final again," Davis told NBC after the final whistle. "We did it last year. We have the ability. We have the belief."