That was an ugly game. The new grass played better than the old, but it provided an ugly backdrop. The officiating--well, THAT was ugly, but to be fair that wasn't exactly an easy game to ref. Ugliest of all, the Dynamo got the messy draw they wanted out of Kansas City. Driving home from the match last night, I thought about a kid I had a couple of classes with in junior high school. He wasn't funny or smart. He wasn't athletic or artistic. He wasn't a friend of mine. All I can remember about him is that he was the kid who hit his growth spurt before the rest of the boys and that he was singularly devoted to enjoying what turned out to be a brief time of physical power over the rest of us.
How I hated him.
My seventh grade self should have had more patience with the taunts and low-grade physical abuse. Nowadays schools at least preach zero tolerance for such things, but back then everyone from parents to principals assumed that the way to deal with a bully--even a bully six inches taller than you and fifty pounds heavier--was to punch him in the nose. That's the course of action I tried to follow one day in choir, where he and I had been relegated to adjoining spots in the back of the room as hopeless vocalists. I attempted but failed to land my blow while the choir director had her back turned. The frustrated woman broke up the resulting scrum and sent us both to the principal's office.
The movies tell you that the kid who stands up to the bully will win in the end, and I guess I did--but my victory came from ultimately ignoring the jerk, staying out of trouble, and getting good grades. The fight in the choir room did nothing to help my situation, and had I landed my punch and been the clear aggressor it might have seriously hurt prospects in school. I didn't cover myself in glory there in the choir room. I let someone else bring out the worst in me, and I'm fortunate to have come through as well as I did.
The tricky thing about bullies is that you can't back down from them, but yet if you sink to their level they'll be the ones who win. My trip down memory lane started because I saw a lot of my seventh grade self out there on the field last night.
The Dynamo aren't the pointless bullies my tormenter was; they at least are trying to collect points the best they can over the course of a season against teams that are mostly better than them. There are talented players on the Houston roster, but collectively that isn't a bunch of guys who are going to beat you if they have to play a game of soccer. So the Dynamo try to get better teams to lower themselves to their level, to play a game of the sort that the team in the oddly orange uniforms can win. It's like provoking the smaller boy into a fight that he's going to lose.
The thing that I respect about Houston, as opposed to another team I know, is that the Dynamo don't pretend to be something they aren't. No one in Houston talks about pretty soccer or claims to be aggrieved when other teams commit tactical fouls against them. No, the Dynamo welcome tactical fouls committed against them, because that both slows the game to a pace more agreeable to them and might give Brad Davis a set-piece opportunity. Houston wants opponents to start fouling off the ball in retaliation to for the countless fouls they commit. The Dynamo won't win many soccer games, but they can win a wrestling match with free kicks sprinkled in. When there are five fouls committed on every play, the referee can't call all of them, and the game gets uglier and uglier. The Houston Dynamo need games to be ugly if they are going to have a chance in this league. When you face Houston, you have to figure out a way to deal with their style without sinking to their level.
The Dynamo brought out the worst in Sporting Kansas City last night. We sank to Houston's level. No one covered themselves in glory, but we should have known better.
Sporting Kansas City received four yellow cards last night, and they were mostly deserved. Oh, many of them were as understandable as trying to slug a guy who's picked on you for months in the back of the choir room, but that doesn't mean that they were good ideas. Dom baiting Tyler Deric into a yellow card might not be sportsmanlike, but then immediately earning a yellow of his own for a dive was idiotic. Sporting was whistled for 19 fouls, mostly correctly, to the mere 12 that were called on Houston; as the old saying goes, the retaliation will be the foul that gets called.
Should Sporting have won that game? Yes. Were we the better team? Mostly, at least underneath all the ugliness. Were we ever likely to win once the game became a slugfest full of long-balls played over the heads of our superior midfielders? No--in fact, we're lucky to have gotten the draw.
Yes, I know that Sporting should have been awarded a penalty for the stoppage time handball in the box. The center ref didn't cover himself in glory there, that's for sure. Then again, there wasn't a lot of glory to go around last night, so we can't complain too loudly.