FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- To New England Revolution coach Jay Heaps, it has never been a mystery as to how the Houston Dynamo have made it to four of the past six MLS Cup finals.
As a player, Heaps experienced first-hand how the Dynamo effectively suffocated squads and squeezed points out in the process, and Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Gillette Stadium was another classic example of that stubborn approach.
“We played a tough opponent tonight. Houston’s a really good team, and they hold on,” Heaps said. “You wonder why they’ve made it to [the last] two MLS Cups in a row. They know how to grind these games out.”
The Revolution spent the better part of the week leading up to Saturday’s game preparing for Houston to make it a tough and physical battle, and that’s precisely what the Dynamo were able to do in the first half.
Both sides struggled to string together passes and create effective scoring opportunities -- which suited the guests just fine. After all, the longer the game remained level, the better off they were at frustrating their opponents, who needed maximum points to clear the red playoff line after Philadelphia overtook fifth place with a Friday night win over Sporting Kansas City.
With the passing percentages hovering around 70 percent and only one shot on target between the sides in the first half, the Revolution knew it would be a battle to get on the board.
To their credit, though, the Revolution nearly pulled the rug on the Dynamo game plan when they found their best scoring opportunity from, of all things, a set piece just outside the box. Lee Nguyen quickly tapped it short to Chris Tierney, who ripped a shot that hit the near post before Tally Hall cleared it out of danger in the 39th minute.
“We had been kind of waiting for the right opportunity in close to the 18,” Tierney said. “I thought it was in when I hit it, for sure. Credit Tally Hall, I don’t know how he kept it out. Unlucky [for us].”
More gritty play ensued in the second half, as the Revolution continued to dig for the goal they needed to have a chance to get three points. And while Dimitry Imbongo did his best to help the Revolution attack while he was on the field, the dynamic of the game visibly changed when he was subbed out for Juan Agudelo in the 62nd minute.
Agudelo wasted no time making an impact, and by drawing extra attention from Dynamo defenders, space opened up for the Revolution to create better chances.
In fact, only three minutes after Agudelo stepped onto the pitch, the Revolution capitalized when Nguyen played a ball forward to Saer Sene, whose shot from a tight angle flew past Tally Hall in the 64th minute.
“I’m used to it,” Sene said of the tough spot where he took his shot. “I work on it every day in practice and, thank God, I scored in the same situation.”
But just as the Dynamo were able to stifle New England for much of the match, they were equally up to the task in finding the equalizer.
In the 76th minute, Andrew Farrell failed to clear a dangerous ball out of the defending third, and the Dynamo pounced on the mistake when Boniek Garcia played it through to Will Bruin, who slammed it under the bar and into the net.
“It was a goal kick in the end that broke us down, so I think that was their game plan,” Tierney said. “Credit to them; they caught us out there once.”
Although the Revolution found two chances to convert from set piece opportunities, they fell short each time, as the Dynamo gladly pocketed the road point, and prevented the Revolution from ripping fourth place away from them.
“I’m proud of the guys [in] the way they played,” Heaps said. “But at the same time, we have four games left that we have to get points in. There is no question in my mind [that] it’s going to be a tough road.”