If you’re going to get knocked out of the playoffs, at least go down swinging.
That might not have been Coach Bob Bradley’s instruction Sunday night to Chivas USA, but it most certainly was the way his team ended its second Major League Soccer campaign.
In an explosive match that at one point threatened to get out of control, the Houston Dynamo scored two second-half goals to defeat Chivas, 2-0, and clinch the two-game, total-goal series, 3-2, in front of 17,440 at Robertson Stadium in Houston.
Houston advances to the Western Conference final against the Colorado Rapids.
Chivas won the opening match in the two-game, total-goals series, 2-1, with Juan Francisco “Paco” Palencia scoring the game-winning goal. This time, Palencia was ejected for slapping at Houston’s Ricardo Clark 10 minutes into the second half.
The score was 0-0 at the time, and Bradley’s side was clinging desperately to its one-goal lead from the first game. Reduced to 10 players, however, Chivas -- or the Herd as they are called in the Houston media -- could not hang on.
A penalty-kick goal by Brad Davis in the 64th minute and a headed goal by Brian Ching 1:57 into stoppage time gave Houston the victory.
At the final whistle, a benches-clearing brawl broke out as furious Chivas players berated referee Michael Kennedy and his assistants, George Gansner and Corey Rockwell, and went toe to toe and face to face with several Dynamo players.
The ugly scenes provided a bitter end to a season in which Chivas rebounded from being the worst team in MLS in 2005 with only four victories in 32 games to becoming a playoff team in 2006.
Despite the confrontations, the match was not a dirty one. There were no crude fouls or intentionally harmful hits, but the stakes put tempers on edge.
It all went south for Chivas during one chaotic 10-minute spell early in the second half.
In the 55th minute, Chivas midfielder Lawson Vaughn was called for a foul by Kennedy, even though replays showed that he had cleanly stripped the ball from an opposing player. Vaughn protested and Kennedy gave him a yellow card.
In the 57th minute, Palencia committed what was called a “reckless foul” on Houston defender Adrian Serioux as both fought for the ball in the air. Vaughn again reached for the yellow card.
Clark took this opportunity to take a backhanded swipe at Palencia, who retaliated by reaching out to slap at Clark. It did not appear that either player made contact, but one of Kennedy’s assistants spotted the incident, and Kennedy ejected Palencia for “violent conduct.”
Clark earned a yellow card, but the damage was done.
On the sideline, Bradley was livid. He already had lost striker and leading scorer Ante Razov as a late scratch because of a sports hernia injury, and now the other key to his offense was out.
It wasn’t over yet. In the 63rd minute Chivas defender Tim Regan gave Dwayne DeRosario a slight shove in the back just inside the penalty area. DeRosario, orange-clad like the rest of the Dynamo players, dropped like a sack of persimmons, and Kennedy pointed to the penalty spot.
With Houston leading, 1-0, the series was tied.
It was still 1-0 when the 90 minutes were up and the announced two minutes of stoppage time were being played. With 1:57 gone, DeRosario got around the right side of the Chivas defense and sent a cross to the far post, where Houston’s Eddie Robinson headed the ball down hard.
It bounced up in between several players just in front of the goal and the opportunistic Ching headed it in, just seconds before the game would have gone to a 30-minute overtime that perhaps might have provided Chivas a lifeline.
Jones reported from Los Angeles.