Houston Dynamo forward Brian Ching was a thorn in the Chicago Fire's side as he netted a hat trick and the game-winning goal in the 85th minute as the Dynamo topped Chicago, 4-3, on Saturday at Robertson Stadium in Houston.
The Fire overcame a 3-1 deficit, but Ching's header off of a corner kick sealed a Houston victory late as Chicago was outplayed in many facets of the match.
Chicago's set-piece defending had its flaws. The Dynamo dominated in possession early on. Certainly the Fire (6-6-6) had a difficult task coming off a mid-week match, while Houston (6-10-5) was well-rested and on its home pitch.
The Fire had an opportunity to jump into third place in the Eastern Conference standings when Toronto FC fell to the New York Red Bulls earlier in the day, but Toronto maintained its two-point lead over Chicago.
Ching had an easy goal in the 31st minute when the ball popped away from Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson on an aggressive interception on a corner kick to give Houston a 1-0 lead. The goal of the match was Ching's bicycle kick in the 59th minute off of a rebound from the crossbar that gave the Dynamo a 3-1 advantage.
The match stayed interesting, though, when Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell had an own goal in the 70th minute when he tried to defend against second-half Fire substitution Patrick Nyarko. That cut Houston's lead to 3-2. Then Chicago tied the score at 3-3 with Wilman Conde's header off of a Freddie Ljungberg corner kick from the right side in the 81st minute.
Houston had a 2-0 lead in the 50th minute on Lovel Palmer's blast off of Richard Mulrooney's free kick. Fire forward Calen Carr tallied his second goal in back-to-back matches in the 55th as he had plenty of time in the box to strike the ball past the poor defending of Boswell and underneath Dynamo goalkeeper Pat Onstad to cut the Fire's deficit to 2-1.
Analysis: Not to take away from the comeback, but the Fire were fortunate they had the opportunity to work their way back. Houston went into halftime with only a 1-0 lead, despite the Dynamo's 11-2 shots advantage, a 3-0 shots-on-goal lead and a whopping 8-0 lead on corner kicks.
The damage could have been much worse.
The Fire survived the first 15 minutes unscathed as the Dynamo was far and away the better team, with multiple scoring opportunities. On the flip side, the Fire literally could not string together three straight passes to one another in that early span.
Chicago fell asleep early on and nearly allowed a goal in the third minute. Shortly after Dominic Oduro was fouled, Mulrooney immediately took the free kick and connected with Geoff Cameron. Cameron had a clear header chance, but he hit the crossbar. A couple minutes later, Palmer's header went over the crossbar as Houston tried to capitalize on a Mulrooney corner kick.
Conde tallied his first goal of the season, but the blemish from this match is that he will miss the road match against Seattle next Saturday because of yellow card accumulation. Conde picked up the yellow when he ran straight into the Dynamo's Brian Mullan in the 61st minute -- an unnecessary move from the back -- and it now turns into a setback heading into Qwest Field. Defender Krzysztof Krol probably can step into Conde's role, but Chicago would rather have its MLS All-Star in the mix.
Johnson suffered his first MLS loss in the net. Johnson was 2-0-1 entering Saturday's match, and he would like to have back that 31st-minute sequence. Fire defender C.J. Brown did his best to try and get out of the way of Johnson, but the two players bumped and Johnson could not secure the ball as Ching was there to mop up.