Chicago Fire striker Florent Sinama-Pongolle headed home in stoppage time to send Fire legend Logan Pause out in style. The one club man has spent his entire career in Chicago, and tonight played his final match as one of the Men in Red, and will finish his career just shy of 300 appearances in 11 seasons in Chicago. The former US international ends a decorated career tonight that saw him captain the Fire, win the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup in 2006 and a domestic double in 2003 that saw him capture the Open Cup and MLS Cup.
Tonight's match closes out the season for both Chicago and Houston as neither will be heading to the playoffs and both will be facing a major rebuild. Houston will be losing manager Dominic Kinnear; the Glaswegian is the only manager the Dynamo has ever known. He will be returning to San Jose, where he managed the Earthquakes before their relocation to Houston.
Meanwhile, Chicago manager Frank Yallop will likely head into next season in the hot seat. Chicago has struggled greatly with injuries this year, most notably as reigning MLS MVP Mike Magee has missed a majority of the season, but have regressed this year. This offseason, they will have two Designated Player slots available and look for them to splash the cash to improve for next season.
The scoreline truly does not tell the full story of what happened in this match, for it was truly a Tale of Two Halves. The first was completely and utterly dominated by the Dynamo, and were it not for the brilliance of Sean Johnson would have led 4-0 or 5-0 at the break. The patchy, worn down surface at Toyota Park saw defenders slipping and sliding all over the place. Yet Houston midfielder Omar Cummings managed to stay on his feet, and continued to get in behind the defense. He created the first chance of the match in just the second minute. A long ball over the top caught Lovel Palmer out at the back, and Cummings was in alone. The ball was strong enough it took him well out wide, but he cut a pass back to a wide open Brad Davis. Davis too had trouble getting his footing sorted, and slipped as he made contact with the ball which caused a weak strike right at Johnson.
Cummings was not done on the left, and in the 10th minute nearly opened the scoring. A nearly identical ball played him in after Palmer had again lost his footing, and Cummings swiveled past Jeff Larentowicz to shoot from point blank range only for Johnson to produce a mystifying stop. It was fitting that he should be the one to open the scoring in the 17th minute, glancing in an Evans corner.
The Dynamo should have doubled the lead in the 34th minute after some truly comical defending from Chicago. Palmer again fell asleep defensively, and allowed Giles Barnes to run along the end line completely costless before getting close enough to goal to send a blistering strike right at Johnson, who made a strong kick save high into the air to the edge of the box. A mix-up between Alex and Gonzalo Segares saw neither clear the ball and both fall over each other, the ball ricocheting off Segares and back towards goal. It fell right to Bakary Soumare, who fell flat on his back attempting to clear, and instead rolling a soft pass to the Dynamo's Boniek Garcia three yards away from goal. Somehow, Garcia did not score as Johnson made another myth-defying save to keep it at 1-0. He would do it again just 30 seconds later on a Matt Cochran header. A second ball into the box found Cochran's head at the back post, and it looked as if the ball was destined for the side netting only for Johnson to claw it out yet again.
In the second half, Chicago was certainly bossing the game, and it was inevitable that they would create a good chance. It turned out not to be a chance but a penalty that would set them up for their equalizer. A route one ball over the ball created confusion defensively and it eventually ended with Grant Ward being brought down in the box by Houston keeper Tyler Deric. Captain Larentowicz stepped up to the spot to convert the spot kick and level the match.
After the equalizer, it seemed inevitable the Fire would kick on to win the match. They nearly found the winner in the 87th minute on a volley from Chris Ritter that caromed back off the cross bar. They would finally find their winner in the first 15 seconds of stoppage time, when Paler would atone for his earlier mistakes. He whipped a great cross into the box and onto the head of Sinama-Pongolle, who made no mistake with his finish.
The result leaves Houston in 8th place on 39 points and Chicago in 9th three points behind them. There is no possible variation of results this weekend that could see those final standings change.