Wilmer Cabrera thrilled the Houston Dynamo are 'not on vacation yet'
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Barely a year after finishing at the very bottom of Major League Soccer's Western Conference, the Houston Dynamo are heading for the conference final after knocking off the top-seeded Portland Timbers on Sunday night at Providence Park.
First-year Dynamo coach Wilmer Cabrera likened the turnaround to a dream -- one that'll live on for at least a few more weeks before the West finals kick off on Nov. 21 against the Seattle Sounders.
"Now we continue dreaming and thinking about the possibilities that are in front of us," Cabrera said. "We're not on vacation yet."
The atmosphere was electric before and throughout Sunday's match. But it wasn't hostile, Cabrera said, "the environment was beautiful" and the underdog Dynamo rose to the occasion.
While many league observers were prematurely rubbing their hands together at the possibility of a Sounders-Timbers conference championship, Houston approached the game with quiet confidence and grew into the match as it progressed.
Dylan Remick's volley on the stroke of half-time was pivotal, cancelling out Dairon Asprilla's earlier strike and giving Houston the away-goals tiebreaker and tilting the momentum toward the visiting locker room during intermission. Mauro Manotas sealed the victory with 13 minutes remaining, theatrically cupping his hands behind his ears in front of the Timbers' Army in defiance.
"We were excited to show that the Houston Dynamo has the quality," Cabrera said. "There's a reason why we're in the playoffs. There's a reason why we're in the finals of the Western Conference. No one has given us anything. We have earned everything on the field."
Timbers coach Caleb Porter could only lament what might have been.
His squad dealt with an extraordinary run of bad injury luck leading up to the game. Midfielder Sebastian Blanco missed the first leg after accidentally dropping boiling water on his own foot while cooking early last week and started Sunday's match on the bench. Diego Chara broke his foot during Game 1, and in the final play of training on Saturday, defender Roy Miller tore his Achilles while leaping during a set-piece drill.
Darlington Nagbe and David Guzman both played hurt, and forward Darren Mattocks was substituted out in the 13th minute after suffering a head injury.
"That's the story of the season, for good and bad," Porter said. "The bad is that we weren't at full strength very often this year. But we still got 15 wins, which tied the club record and won the West while playing with a lot of different guys. Tonight, we were as thin as ever. ... That became the rallying cry a little bit.
"I can't fault my guys. I told them after the game, in the five years I've been here, this was one of my most enjoyable years. It wasn't just 15 wins and winning the West, though those all real positives that we'll realize when the sting wears off.
"It was just being around these groups of guys. It's a great group of guys. It's just a shame we couldn't move on, because I think we could have really done something if we had 15 or so days to get a few guys back and healthy. We really thought we would pull this off today."
Had they pulled it off, it would have set up one of the most anticipated playoff series in MLS history between two of the league's most passionate rivals.
Instead, Houston's underdog story moves on.
Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based soccer reporter covering primarily the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.