Naturally, the top two defensive teams in the MLSfought to a scoreless tie for 90 minutes with their seasons on theline.
Brian Ching broke the deadlock with what he called one of thegreatest shots of his career.
Ching scored six minutes into overtime and the Houston Dynamoadvanced to the Western Conference final for the third time in fouryears with a 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders on Sunday.
The teams both allowed only 29 goals in the regular season, thelowest in MLS. They tied 0-0 in the first leg of their two-gamesemifinal on Oct. 29, setting up the winner-take-all match inHouston.
Houston defender Mike Chabala set up the winning shot with ahigh cross from the left. The ball deflected off midfielder BrianMullan and right to Ching, who beat goalkeeper Kasey Keller with ashot to the top left corner.
"I just kind of turned and hit one of the best shots of mylife," Ching said. "I was happy to see that go in."
The Dynamo advances to the single-game West final to face thewinner of the Chivas USA-Los Angeles match later Sunday. Houstonimproved to 5-1 at home in the playoffs and 9-1-6 at home thisseason.
Houston won the MLS championships in 2006 and '07, and Chingsaid the team drew on that experience as Sunday's game wore on.
"We've put expectations on ourselves," said Ching, thefranchise's all-time leader in playoff goals (6). "Every year,we're one of those teams that realistically feels like we're one ofthose teams that can win the MLS Cup. The proof is in ourresults."
The Sounders, an expansion team, wrapped up their inauguralseason by losing to Houston for the first time in five games(2-1-2).
"We attributed ourselves really well, and the city wasphenomenally behind us," Keller said. "Now we have to take thepill of not winning this time and we have to go out and spend theoffseason thinking about how we're going to make it better."
Seattle defender James Riley earned a red card in the finalminute of overtime after tripping Ricardo Clark. The teamsexchanged words at midfield before referee Jorge Gonzalez got inthe middle of the crowd.
Houston outshot Seattle 15-10.
Dominic Oduro had three of Houston's nine first-half shots,including a drive off the left post in the 23rd minute. The24-year-old forward from Ghana caught up to a long pass from StuartHolden in the 30th minute, but his shot crossed just in front ofthe goal.
"I don't think we panicked," Ching said. "We were just alittle unlucky on a lot of opportunities in the first half."
Seattle's best chances in the first half came on counterattacks,before the Dynamo's defense could get set.
Fredy Montero ran past a Houston defender, but his close rangeshot went into the side of the net. Steve Zakuani sent a cross intothe goal area in the 36th minute and Houston's Geoff Cameron nearlydeflected it into the net for an own goal.
Pat Onstad made a diving stop on Montero's shot in the 57thminute, one of the few scoring chances for either team in thesecond half.
"We knocked on the door a few times," Keller said, "but wejust couldn't sustain enough pressure."
The Dynamo were back in the same position as they were lastseason, hosting a decisive game in the West semifinals. They tiedNew York 1-1 in the first game last year, then lost 3-0 in Houston.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times