Sad to see a well-beaten Montreal end their season on that note — especially seeing Di Vaio lash out in such an ugly fashion. They'd already been let down by one of their more experienced players when Rivas saw red just before Houston's third goal.
For the Dynamo, lots of positives, with one or two caveats. They came up against a team who scraped into the playoffs and were clearly out of form, and lacking in other dimensions than feeding Di Vaio. For 15 minutes the Impact made Houston look uncomfortable and indeed even with a lead there were moments when the Houston Dynamo defense looked shaky. They'll need to be better against a Red Bull side that has outscored them 10-1 this season. But the chief positive, other than the win, was the fact that the streaky Will Bruin appears to have timed his run perfectly to get his confidence back. Two goals for him and a number of other attempts in target saw him grow in self-belief as the game went on.
If Houston play with similar self-belief in the semis, there's no reason they can't trouble a New York side that's owned them this year. The truism that they're two different sides before and after the playoff starts doesn't exactly reflect what happened tonight, but if the breaks go their way early on Sunday that series could be very interesting indeed.
For now, thanks for following with me. We'll be back with fan previews of the semi-finals tomorrow, and liveblogs of those games this weekend. For now, good night.
FULL TIME: HOUSTON 3-0 MONTREAL
Final thoughts in a moment
RED CARDS FOR MONTREAL'S DI VAIO AND ROMERO
Romero goes in hard on Sarkodie, and suddenly there's a big sulky melee as Di Vaio piles in, and as it calms down, both Di Vaio and Romero see red for laying hands on opponents in the scrap. Montreal down to eight men!
Some "Oles" ringing out as Houston continue to keep the ball. Driver gets down the left and cuts it back to Cummings who has a chance to shoot, but elects to keep the possession moving.
Now Boniek Garcia tries a cheeky touch from the edge of the box, but Montreal scoop it clear.
More casual siege-play on the edge of the Montreal box, as the Dynamo toy with a shattered Impact, who are just jogging through the remaining minutes of their season.
Game fizzling out a little, but Houston happy to keep the ball in Montreal's half, and move it around a little. Eventually Creavalle has a slightly hopeful punt from distance, which runs wide.
Still a lot of empty seats in the stadium but the noise is pretty impressive from those who are hear. Dynamo fans waking up to the traditional "start of the season" for them. Cummings and Brovsky have a minor spat on the edge of the Montreal box now, but it fizzles out, much like the Montreal challenge.
Davis comes off to a huge cheer now, and is replaced by Andrew Driver.
Cam Weaver and Omar Cummings come on for Bruin and Barnes, just to give the Impact some fresh legs to face running at them in attack to see this one out. Houston 3-0 Montreal with 10 minutes to go.
Bruin races onto a ball over the top, Di Vaio style (the Italian has gone totally missing as the game has gone on by the way), but Perkins is out quick enough to smother the ball.
Just as I say that about Di Vaio he works a cross in that somehow gets to the back post where Mapp heads back across goal from the edge of the six yard box. it's palmed clear by Hall.
Montreal never got the chance to truly reorganize after losing Rivas and were duly punished.
They've been the perfect tune-up opponents for Houston and Will Bruin in particular. If he can get a goal early in the New York series that one could be very interesting indeed.
Back in what remains of this game, Barnes pops upon the left of the box to send a shot goal ward, ut straight at Perkins.
My esteemed editor wanders by, whistling admiringly:
GOAL! HOUSTON 3-0 MONTREAL (BRUIN!)
From the free kick by Boniek Garcia Davis fires just wide across goal, with Perkins looking out of position.
No matter though as Bruin races past an outpaced Ferrari, twists past him with the ball and scoops the ball past Perkins as he charges out of his goal. 3-0. Game over.
NELSON RIVAS IS SENT OFF FOR MONTREAL
…better corner, but there's some shoving in the box and frustratingly for the Impact, it's a free kick to Houston.
Houston get forward, and Rivas once again looks a little sloppy with the arm as he climbs on Bruin. He gets a second yellow and the question of how the permanently injured player would cope with a full 90 minutes is moot. Montreal down to ten men and losing 2-0.
Felipe finds some space down the left but his low cross across goal is kicked clear. Now he picks up the ball deep and once again his pass is cut out as he tries to drive it forward. A minute later though and Montreal go closer. Mapp cuts inside and Paponi finds the space he's vacated and picks up the ball for a fierce goal bound shot that's parried for a corner by Hall. It's poor, but the Impact get another one...
As it stands Houston will be hosting New York Red Bulls on Sunday afternoon. They could seal it now as Creavalle intercepts a telegraphed pass and surges forward. Rivas gets a foot in to stop the break, but Houston come forward again and Barnes curls in a cross that's glanced goal wards by Bruin. Perkins dives to pluck the ball to his right. Everything Bruin touches is going on target right now.
More blue shirts in the Houston final third than at any stage in the game now. Is it too late though? Brovsky gets down the right but his cross is poor and goes for a goal kick.
In the next sequence Montreal get a free kick wide right halfway into the Houston half. They load up the box with players, but the fee kick from Mapp is poor and cleared by Davis.
Creavalle makes an error and Montreal fashion a chance from nothing as Di Vaio stings Hall's hands with a shot from distance. Houston make a little bit of a hash of clearing the corner.
And now Wenger and Warner come off and Paponi and Felipe come on, as Schallibaum goes all in on attack.
Montreal now have half an hour to do something. Their bench were all looking at Schallibaum a minute ago, as if willing him to change something. Houston looking the more likely to score next as it stands.
Barnes torments the Montreal defense down the left and earns another corner as his ball into the box is deflected out. It's another in swinger and Perkins punches clear.
And now Montreal make their next move. Daniele Paponi will be coming on to try and change the score. It's Houston 2-0 Montreal
Not that Romero's a bad player of course. Instantly he gets a touch towards Di Vaio in space, but it asks him to do too much and Houston recover and press forward.
Some Houston pressure is kept going by Sarkodie and then Bruin surges into the right side of the box and forces Perkins into a save from a narrow angle. Bruin's confidence looking sky high. Corner. Davis takes it and Barnes heads just over.
…corner comes deep, but is headed clear by Bruin. Warner winds up to try a shot from distance as the ball falls to him, but it's well over. Now Schallibaum makes his move, and it's a slightly puzzling one. Pisanu comes off, that part's clear enough as he's been poor, but then the on-loan Andres Romero comes on. No Felipe, no Arnaud, no Bernier. Hmmm.
…the wall does its job, but a series of sliced shots and clearances ends with a Houston corner, so they'll have another look. Whipped in by Boniek Garcia, but headed clear by a Montreal defender.
Nothing from Montreal yet in this half, but now Mapp cuts inside and makes space centrally for a shot, which is deflected wide for a corner...
Boniek Garcia dances around a little on the corner of the box then chips a ball wide over the defense, but leaving too much for Davis to do.
Now Houston have a free kick after Barnes is fouled by Brovsky running away from goal. Right on corner of the box in dangerous territory for Davis to curl one in...
Houston pinging the ball around the Montreal final third, but eventually Clark's through ball towards Barnes is intercepted and Montreal have a chance of springing forward. But Pisanu, who's been poor, wastes his pass forward. A minute later he's on the ball again in an advanced position on the left, but wastes his cross. Still Houston 2-0 Montreal
Houston straight on front foot, but Ferrari gets Davis's cross away.
Montreal looking a little sluggish still, when you look at the one-on-one challenges around the field. The one hope they might have is that Houston tend to concede a lot of goals late in games.
OK we're off again. Houston get us underway (after a brief huddle to decide the winner of the Halloween costume contest, or talk about who said what to who at the party, or perhaps something to do with soccer…).
Having a little trouble embedding the converted penalty. But basically it was…a converted penalty. Here's Bruin's goal though...
The BBVA Field
Earlier we wondered about the state of the field. Well Tom Dart (he of the excellent Di Vaio interview - see pre game) lives in Houston and has got his magnifying glass out to have a look at it for us:
Which is cheeky, but true.
Half time thoughts
Are Houston playing themselves into yet another playoff series? At the start of the ams they looked tentative, were being stretched by Di Vaio and Montreal's balls over the top, and other than a few forays and crosses by Davis, not creating much. Then Ricardo Clark, who's been key these last couple of months, found a neat little touch for Will Bruin, and the striker picked the perfect game to start scoring again. A few minutes later and a really unnecessary foul on Boniek Garcia gifted Houston a second, and also, but the looks of it, the gift of confidence.
The Dynamo began to express themselves going forward, while Montreal continued playing the odds with balls forward to Di Vaio. They may get a goal from that, maybe not, but probably not two. Some of their other players need to start providing some options, or Houston will ease them out of the game and MLS Cup in the second half. And by the way, Wenger as a deep-lying forward is not working right now.
Half time: Houston 2-0 Montreal
Half-time thoughts in a moment.
45 mins +1
Hall did well to narrow the angle on that last Montreal attack. He's arguably been MVP for Houston this year.
Mapp fires the ball forward for Di Vaio again, but Ashe is very tight on him and despite Di Vaio twisting and turning he can't force the space to do anything other than have his shot deflect off the Houston defender's legs. One minute to be added on, which we're in...
Montreal have their first corner, as we turn towards half-time. Mapp sends it deep, and Ferrari rather gets under his header. it loops harmlessly to Hall.
Another chance for Di Vaio on a through ball, and the striker for once has space to get a shot off, but his chip is read and blocked by Hall. A warning for Houston but nothing more.
Another corner for Houston as Sarkodie, in space in the box, sees his shot deflected over by Brovsky. This game is very open at the moment. Houston can't make anything happen from this particular set piece though and Montreal can come forward again.
Barnes and Boniek Garcia show neat close control near the corner of the box, before Barnes sends a low shot skimming towards the near post, without enough power to beat Perkins, but forcing him to make the save.
Mapp goes on another surging run at the other end, looks to have lost the ball near the byline but fashions a cross that Di Vaio can only glance across the face of goal with his head. Still Houston 2-0 Montreal
Boswell does the hard work of keeping Di Vaio at bay then rather ruins it with an aimless clearance that could have gone anywhere. Di Vaio looking very isolated at the moment though and has no support as he races wide to retrieve.
At the other end the Impact are carved open as Bruin is able to head a ball into the path of Barnes charging through on goal. It's just too close to Perkins, but the gap between the Impact center backs looked huge there.
The replays show that Rivas was very lucky not to be off there. Even if Montreal could somehow get through here, I doubt we'll see him against New york at the weekend once the Disciplinary Committee see that.
Barnes looks royally annoyed.
Mapp powers his way down the right of midfield and his cross is shepherded out for a throw to Montreal, which they can't do anything with.
Now Di Vaio makes a neat turn in a deep position but is instantly crowded out. Houston come forward and Rivas straight arms Barnes for what at first glance looks like a ludicrously lenient yellow card.
Bruin finds Sarkodie on the overlap and his curled in cross is just about cleared but Montreal and once again we're back to an end to end move as the Impact sweep forward. A ball to the back post and there's Di Vaio again, looping a harmless header roughly goalwards.
Understandably the Dynamo are looking way more confident now. Barnes runs from deep and wide left towards the goal and sends a shot in from outside the box, but it's always curling away.
Montreal probably just need to do what they're doing (other than conceding of course) — they've had their moments and a goal before half time would change the complexion of this game. Pisanu tries a slide rule pass down the channel for Di Vaio, who's, yes, offside.
GOAL! HOUSTON 2-0 MONTREAL (BONIEK GARCIA!)
Montreal in all sorts of trouble already. Perkins dives left, Boniek Garcia slides it low to the right and the Dynamo are in a perfect position.
PENALTY TO HOUSTON! BERNARDELLO FOULS BONIEK GARCIA!
…Davis takes the corner towards the far post where it's claimed by Perkins. Montreal try to play out but the ball is intercepted by Boniek Garcia who dribbles into the box and is fouled as he's crowded out.
Andrew Wenger, who's been deployed in the middle of that forward midfield trio for the Impact, loses the ball again. He used to be a midfielder at Duke University, but since then has been a forward. Other than one pass to Di Vaio early, he hasn't settled yet in his role for the evening.
Bernardello sends a cheeky ball over the top now (are we seeing a pattern to this Montreal attack?), but for once the Dynamo are alert to it. They go up the other end through Bruin and Barnes and earn themselves another corner. End to end stuff...
Another tempting ball over the top of the Dynamo defense; another run by Di Vaio; another run out of his goal by Hall to just about thwart him.
Straight up the other end and Clark is put through on the right of the box. It's a narrow angle and he tries to shoot, but ends up skewing it across goal with not much else on.
Immediately, the Impact try to come back and Mapp takes a few steps to set himself on the edge of the box as Boswell and Brunner watch appreciatively, only waking up, as Mapp fires a low shot just past the far post with Hall beaten.
They've looked better than Houston early on, and that Bruin goal could be a real sickener for a team short on confidence.
GOAL! HOUSTON 1-0 MONTREAL (BRUIN!)
BRUINIGOL! Montreal sitting too deep as Houston attack and it gives Ricardo Clark a chance to improvise a lovely backheel into the path of Will Bruin just inside the box. He shapes well and curls his shot firmly past Perkins! That answers the "When will Bruin start scoring again?" question.
Crisper interplay in the middle third from Houston almost sets Bruin free down the left, but heas barged off the ball by Rivas, who then pumps a long ball forward for Di Vaio to chase. Again he pounces forward to get through on goal, but he's offside again.
Di Vaio chases a ball over the top and Hall has to run out of his goal to belt the ball clear outside the box. The Italian was onside for that one.
In the next move Houston finally force a chance. Sarkodie gets forward on the right and floats a cross over that Clark heads straight at Perkins after a late run into the box. Better from Houston.
Another Davis cross (the only vague Houston threat so far) is headed for another corner by Brovsky. this one will be taken by Davis. Inswinger, punched clear by Troy Perkins, and for a second Montreal have a glimpse of a break, but settle for holding possession and looking for an opening.
Davis strides forward again and tries to find Bruin running to the near post but his cross is cut out for a corner. It's taken by Boniek Garcia rather than Davis, but cleared at the near post.
Now Ashe and Di Vaio have a little bit of a posturing chat after they clash while chasing a long ball over the top into the Houston box. They eventually wander off in opposite directions muttering. Still Houston 0-0 Montreal. The visitors shading the early exchanges though.
First movement from Davis on the left for Houston and he gets to the byline and cuts a ball back. It's sent out wide to him again via a dummy by Clark, but he takes his team mate by surprise as well as the defense and Davis is still in an offside position.
Corey Ashe down for a moment after a clash with Hassoun Camara. He's temporarily off the field after looking like he caught a flailing arm as both went up for a header.
Slow start for the Dynamo, playing mostly in their own half. Warner has another look up from a deeper position but overruns his ball out wide for the overlapping Mapp. Warner's looking lively early though.
Now Wenger and Di Vaio combine on the edge of the box and the latter flicks a shot goal wards to force the save, but he's again marginally offside. Good news for Montreal that those two were combining early though.
First offside for Di Vaio, but as usual it was tight and followed a good run up the middle and flick by Collen Warner. If the flag hadn't gone up Di Vaio was clean through.
Mapp has an early dart down the left for Montreal, but runs out of room. Montreal trying to make a lively start and put the hosts on the back foot. No 8 second Tim Cahill-style goal though...
Montreal get us under way. There've been 3 or 4 inches of rain over the last couple of days by the way - add that in to the mix on attendance and there are a lot of empty seats at the start of this game.
Let's see how the rain affects the field as well. Three college football games played on this field in the past month.
Twitter is affected by ennui...
We'll see what we can do about getting you some truffles Bill.
In fairness, the Dynamo have been to four finals in seven years. They're a pretty remarkable playoff team. Despite their somewhat indifferent form this year, nobody would be particularly surprised to see them come up against the Galaxy in the final for the third year running.
Am interested to see how many show up tonight. Houston’s attendances have looked a little patchy this year after the boost of the new stadium last season. That and this being not only a midweek game but also Halloween may have a big effect on the atmosphere. I seem to remember Houston themselves benefitting from a weirdly ghostly Toyota Park when they went on the road to dump Chicago out at this stage last year.
We'll see very soon. Kick off is any minute now.
Some Houston fan nerves then (or some exceptionally sporting Montreal well-wishing). Bruin looked to have turned a corner a few weeks ago, just in time for the playoffs, but has somewhat faltered again. Now might indeed be an exceptionally good time to "step his game up".
Houston: Hall; Sarkodie, Boswell Brunner, Ashe; García, Creavalle, Clark, Davis ©; Barnes, Bruin
Montreal: Perkins; Brovsky, Ferrari ©, Rivas, Camara; Bernardello, Warner; Pisanu, Wenger, Mapp; Di Vaio
All the hits are in there for Houston, in what looks close to a first choice line up for this crucial game. Giles Barnes is listed in attack in a 4-4-2 alongside Will Bruin, but he’ll drop off, drift wide and generally find whatever space he can to cause problems.
But a big gamble by Montreal in starting Nelson Rivas, who certainly has the veteran quality they need in a situation like this, but who’s been kept out all season with injury. There was talk they’d go with the academy player Lefevre in central defense but Rivas it is. And there’s no Patrice Bernier in the starting line up. The Impact sticking with the 4-2-3-1 but trying to switch the personnel up a bit — that redundancy of styles of Hernan Bernardello and Bernier hadn’t been helping them any in recent games.
Some more light reading
Speaking of Di Vaio, here’s a rather nice recent interview with him by Tom Dart , and you might also want to have a look at our team by team playoff previews while we wait for the last bit of team news.
Earlier this year, that Impact midfield were playing some beautiful intricate approach play and feeding the prolific Marco di Vaio in his challenge for the Golden Boot (and Golden Offside Flag). But Patrice Bernier in particular has struggled with injuries down the stretch, and the Impact have had to be more direct, but also less effective. Di Vaio is still chipping in with goals, but the likes of Andrew Wenger have been wasting a lot of what chances there are, and if they’re to do anything in this playoff series that has to change. They’ve failed to score in four of their last five games.
At the back, the absence of Italian veteran Alessandro Nesta is hurting them as well. As mlssoccer.com pointed out in their preview of this game, the Impact are 12-6-4 with Nesta and 2-7-3 without him. With him out, as he is tonight, the Impact look a very vulnerable proposition.
There are several experienced and less experienced players in this Dynamo squad who can make a difference. An indifferent year turned round when Ricardo Clark came back into the team; Oscar Boniek Garcia, on his day, can unpick defenses with the best in the league; Will Bruin can bully his way to goal (though can be unfuriatingly profligate in front of it); Brad Davis is the best deliverer of set pieces in the league (especially now we’re in the post-Beckham era). Any or all these players combined could have a say on tonight’s game. But for me it’s Giles Barnes who will be key tonight. The Impact’s well-oiled midfield unit has been squeaking a lot recently, and you just feel that Barnes, with his ability to pop up in attacking positions in the middle of the park, may hold the key to opening up the Impact defense.
And then there were nine…
Welcome to the MLS Eastern Conference wild card game between Houston Dynamo and Montreal Impact. Last night we saw Seattle Sounders get some of their mojo back (at least in the first half) against Colorado Rapids, to set up a rather appetizing series against Portland in the West, and tonight it's the turn of Houston and Montreal in the East.
Hard to look beyond Houston for this one, on current form, given the slow deflation of Montreal from their first placed start to the season. They skidded in to the playoffs on the last day despite losing in Toronto. Tonight's winners will face New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, and it was the Red Bulls hammering of Chicago on Sunday evening that kept the Impact in contention, rather than anything they did themselves on the run in, where they lost six times in their last eight games.
Houston meanwhile have been in so-so form in the meantime. They've won four of eight, but were also beaten 3-0 at home by the Red Bulls in their last game at BBVA. They've not yet quite looked like the same team that Dominic Kinnear has made an art of bringing to the boil for playoff time. Can the wild card game kick start them into the type of run that's seen them reach the final in each of the last two years?
General form aside, these two have played each other three times this year, with the home team winning on each occasion, and always by a shutout. Montreal will want to channel the 5-0 victory they picked up at Stade Saputo at the end of August, while for Houston the tight 1-0 they eked out just a few weeks ago at this stadium, would do quite nicely tonight.
We'll be under way soon, so I'll be back shortly with more build up and team news. In the meantime you can send your tweets to @KidWeil or emails to firstname.lastname@example.org and watch what happened the last time these two met on October 4th.