Metro loses late lead in leg one, 1:1
November 1, 2008
It all started with such promise. Juan Carlos Osorio finally made meaningful changes in his lineup, benching the high-priced but ineffective South American mercenaries for some of the club's less flashy and unproven homegrown talent. And up until the final twenty minutes of the game, it worked like a charm: the entire team, even the much-maligned defense, played a competent, professional game, leading the top team in the Western Conference by a goal in a game they absolutely needed to win. It would all come to naught, however, when Osorio reverted to form and backed off near the end, allowing the two-time defending champions the slim window of opportunity they needed to strike a major blow against Metro's chances of progressing.
Osorio made a couple of unexpected changes to his starting eleven. He paired Juan Pablo Angel with John Wolyniec, no doubt to battle effectively with Houston's physical central defense. The real surprises came in the midfield; Dave van den Bergh and Dane Richards resumed their usual positions on the left and right flanks, respectively, but Sinisa Ubiparipovic was called upon to play in Jorge Rojas' typical attacking midfielder role and Luke Sassano took the field in the defensive midfielder position that is usually occupied by Juan Pietravallo. With Diego Jimenez stepping in for Gabriel Cichero in central defense, each of Osorio's prized midseason South American acquisitions started the game on the bench.
The first half would end as it started, scoreless, but not without a spirited battle in the middle of the field. Emotions began to spill over after a series of hard challenges that took place in the last fifteen minutes of the half, with a number of yellow cards given out in between much yelling and shoving by members of both parties.
The second half, however, would start much differently. Whatever was said or done at halftime in the Metro locker room paid immediate dividends as the team came out fighting from the starting whistle. Their efforts would be rewarded with the match's opening goal in the 48th minute. An aggressive throw-in from van den Bergh found Wolyniec streaking toward the endline; at the last moment Wolyniec flicked a short lob to the near post. Catching the pass off the bounce, Angel's diving header placed the ball just inside the opposite post, leaving no room for an Onstad intervention. The attacking play wouldn't stop there, however, as both sides got into the action; a Metro scoring chance followed with a Houston attack that ended with a close-range Brian Ching header that found the secure hands of Danny Cepero. The upbeat tempo would continue on both ends of the field until an Leitch near-miss off an unlikely long shot signaled the end of the attacking insanity.
Alas, the good vibes from the first part of the second half would soon fade as Osorio called upon his most favored of tactics: bunkering when leading by a goal. In the 77th minute, Pietravallo was the man tapped to provide the needed reinforcement to Metro's defensive efforts. Predictably, the results were devastating. Freed from the near-constant pressure to that point of Metro's attack, Houston gained confidence pressing further and further up the field. Wade Barrett's cross in the 85th found Stuart Holden in the box alongside a flustered Jimenez. Holden immediately flicked the ball to the nearby Kei Kamara, who reacted before Jimenez could and buried his shot past a diving Cepero. Wolyniec would force a late Onstad save, but the damage had been done; Houston would escape home with the series knotted up at one-all.
Is the season over? It appears likely. Metro has never won at Robertson Stadium, posting a 0-2-1 record in the three matches they have played there. More importantly, Metro has only won a single road game all season long, and the chances of the Western Conference leaders being their second scalp this season seems very remote.
Lineup: Cepero, Goldthwaite, Jimenez, Boyens, Leitch, Sassano, Richards, van den Bergh, Ubiparipovic, Wolyniec, Angel. Subs: Pietravallo.