MLS analysis

Analysis: Houston continues knockout dominance in controversial win over SKC

The Houston Dynamo contiune to excel in knockout soccer with an U.S. Open Cup title and a run to Western Conference Final. ASN's Brian Sciaretta looks at the team's 1-0 win over SKC, the controversy with officiating, and what the game means for both teams. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
November 27, 2023
8:05 AM

AFTER WINNING the U.S. Open Cup in September, the Houston Dynamo are a step closer to a second major trophy after a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City to advance to the Western Conference Final where they will face LAFC in California.

The entire game hinged on two moments separated by a minute. In the 30th minute, the Houston Dynamo pulled ahead when Fracisco Escobar headed home a Hector Herrera corner. Immediately after play resumed following the goal, Alan Pulido’s shot was saved by Steve Clark. The rebound fell to Daniel Salloi, whose shot hit the arm of Dynamo defender Erik Sviatchenko on the goal line.

In the end, the call was not made and Sporting would never find the back of the net and now Houston is off to the Conference Final.


Here are some thoughts on it all.


The non call


On the heels of Cincinnati’s match winner the day before that appeared offside, this moment compounded the nightmare of the officiating in the conference semifinals. The big difference was that this was at least not in the final moments of the game.

“The no call on the stop the player makes Sviatchenko inside the box on ball, I mean, it's a handball. I don't know how hard that was, but obviously it was,” Peter Vermes said afterward.

Sporting captain Johnny Russell added afterward: “It's a handball for me. I'm not going to sit and say that's why we lost the game. It's not. But in games as tight as this and in occasions like this, I don't understand why referees aren't 100% sure. He's saying it hits his chest. It clearly doesn't. So I don't know why you're leaving it to VAR. Same as last night. I don't know. It's not the first time that we've had a decision like that go against us...But like I said, it's right after they score. That gets us back in the game. For me, penalty. But we'll probably get some form of apology as usual during the week.”

They’re both right. It probably was a handball, and it should have been made. Houston was the better team on the day, but referees need to get these things right and not be the center of attention. Instead, they did and there is distrust.

But SKC also had over 60 minutes afterward to find a real equalizer and couldn’t do it.


Houston’s fullbacks


In this game and all season long, Houston was great with their fullbacks. Escobar and Griffin Dorsey were both huge in this game as they have been in big games all season long. Dorsey, 24, has been an example of how late bloomers are possible. He is very aggressive getting into the attack and is also a strong defender. At one point, he was waived by Toronto. But then he was a winger. Now as a right back, he can’t be taken off the field.

Combined with Escobar, Dorsey is part of a very effective fullback tandem.


Houston’s open style


Houston is one of the more fun teams to watch in the league. This team is free flowing and one that allows for creativity. The fans are also back in Houston, which is good to see after this team was an afterthought in the league for many years.

But in playing an open style, the team went out and found the players who could do it. All of this is led by Hector Herrera who has been one of the league’s best playmakers in 2023.


SKC’s season ends


As for Sporting KC, their season will be remembered for a horrible start in the first 10 games followed by a rally to make the playoffs where they eliminated both San Jose and then top-seeded St. Louis. Based on where they were in May, they would have taken this.

Yes, the team needs upgrades and cannot rest entirely on its core in an ever-changing and improving league. But they’re still going to be a tough team in 2024.

“Especially after those first 10 games -- the fight back, some of the play we've shown, some of the games that we've put on, especially at home,” Vermes said. “We have to do that more next year and it has to be from the very start. We can't be playing catch up. That's two seasons in a row now that we've left ourselves too much to do. So next year something has to change and I'm sure it will.”

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