The Dynamo have a knack for turning it up a notch in the playoffs and they did just that on Wednesday night, defeating the Fire to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Houston Dynamo have two MLS Cups and were in MLS Cup last year for the reason -- Dominic Kinnear knows how to get his team to find another level in the postseason. On Wednesday night, despite playing on the road where they were winless since July, the Dynamo did just that, beating the Chicago Fire 2-1 to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Fire had problems from the very start, looking apprehensive and every bit the inexperienced defensive team that they are. Sean Johnson mishit a punch inside of four minutes and struggled to handle a relatively easy shot minutes later, while the Fire midfield had trouble completing simple passes as the field tilted in favor of the Dynamo.
In the 12th minute, Houston made their early dominance count and did so, predictably, on a set piece. Jalil Anibaba slipped on a corner kick, leaving Will Bruin all alone to head past Johnson and give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
The Dynamo didn't ease up after going up a goal, either, although it may be more accurate to say the Fire still couldn't put anything after falling behind. Patrick Nyarko was the only Chicago player who seemed capable of threatening the Houston defense and he, like the rest of the Chicago front four, was starved of service as the Dynamo knocked the ball around.
Bobby Boswell almost doubled Houston's lead just before halftime when he was unmarked on a corner kick, but his header went over the bar. Luckily for him, it didn't matter because the Dynamo were 2-0 up just seconds into the second half.
Gonzalo Segares was lackadaisical on the ball near the left sideline, allowing Ricardo Clark to make a nice block of his pass, which deflected right to Calen Carr. A first touch through ball to Bruin put the striker in alone on goal and a clinical finish by Bruin later, Houston were up two goals.
Down by two goals, the Fire finally woke up. They were flawless by any means, especially in defense where they were beat twice and would have conceded again if not for some fine goalkeeping by Johnson, but at least they generated something in the attack.
The substituions of Dominic Oduro and Alex in particular really ignited Chicago's attack and it was the Brazilian who got the Fire on the board. He took a long ball and came in at a sharp angle from the left, slotting the ball past Tally Hall to get the Fire within one, but it wouldn't be enough. The substitutions came too late and the Dynamo had risen to the occasion in the playoffs once again.
Chicago's season comes to an end, but Houston lives on. They will take on top seeded Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference semifinals in a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference final, which the Dynamo won. The two-legged tie begins on Sunday at BBVA Compass Stadium, where the Dynamo are have never lost a match.