Houston's unlikely hero, Dylan Remick, sends Portland packing from playoffs
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Three thoughts on the Houston Dynamo's 2-1 Western Conference semifinal win over the Portland Timbers on Sunday at Providence Park.
1. Dylan Remick the man of the hour
Remick, the former Seattle Sounder and part-time Dynamo starter, provided his old rivals with a helping hand in the 39th minute, slipping on the turf in Houston's penalty box and giving Dairon Asprilla room to work. The Colombian winger made no mistake, collecting the ball calmly, putting the Timbers up 1-0 and sending the home crowd into raptures.
It took less than four minutes for Remick to earn redemption. Just as quickly as Portland started daydreaming of a potential Western Conference finals showdown against Seattle, Remick put his right foot through a bouncing ball and crushed it past Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. Even Remick looked slightly surprised by the quality of his finish as he turned away to celebrate with the Dynamo bench.
His strike gave Houston the away-goals tiebreaker and control it would never relinquish. Remick hasn't often been in the limelight. Only once in four years with the Sounders did he start more than half the team's matches. Playing time has been more steady this season in Houston, but it tapered off a bit down the stretch run. Prior to Sunday's match, he had scored just one goal in 58 career MLS appearances.
Remick has always been highly regarded by his peers, unfailingly polite even if he wasn't playing well, with a high soccer IQ honed in the Ivy League at Brown University. He has just tended to sort of blend into the background over the long course of the MLS season. There was no more influential player on Sunday night.
2. Houston spoils the party
Watching the electric pregame festivities at Providence Park, it was hard not to wonder just how more amped up the locals were likely to be if Seattle came to town for a conference final in a few weeks' time.
The Timbers and Sounders have faced off in the original North American Soccer League, the Western Soccer Alliance, the A-League and the USL. They played each other in the MLS conference semifinals a few years back. However, the Cascadian rivals have never played each other with an MLS Cup berth on the line, and that would have made for one of the most highly anticipated series in league history.
It wasn't to be. Remick began to break with the narrative with his strike just before halftime, and Mauro Manotas sealed the deal with a goal from distance 13 minutes from time.
Not that the Dynamo appeared all that concerned about neutral preferences -- Manotas' celebration in front of the Timbers' Army, hands cupped defiantly behind his ears, said it all.
The Sounders and Dynamo will play for the Western Conference title starting on Nov. 21 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
3. Portland's injuries finally caught up
Portland's injury report was more crowded than a popular local brunch spot earlier on Sunday morning.
Diego Chara, whose jersey Asprilla held up in tribute during the national anthem, broke his foot during the first leg of the series. Fanendo Adi was again out with an injured hamstring, and both Darlington Nagbe (calf) and David Guzman (knee) soldiered on despite playing through their own various ailments.
Attacking midfielder Sebastian Blanco sustained second-degree burns on the top of his foot after dropping boiling water on it while cooking last week and could only tolerate the pain enough to play in the second half. All of that was before Darren Mattocks was substituted out in the 13th minute of the game with what looked to be a head injury, and prior to Liam Ridgewell's own scare after a collision later in the first half.
Timbers coach Caleb Porter lauded his team's depth earlier this week, and indeed, this might be the deepest squad in the club's MLS history. Yet even that has limits, and on Sunday, Portland finally reached that point. Not even likely league Most Valuable Player Diego Valeri's attacking magic could balm all of those wounds in the end.
Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based soccer reporter covering primarily the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.