PHOENIX – The Houston Dynamo got two opportunistic goals early and then withstood a pair of late tallies from rookie Justin Meram on Thursday to remain unbeaten against MLS competition this preseason with a chippy and physical 4-2 win over the Columbus Crew.
The Dynamo – who stuck with a lineup of mostly expected starters for the first 60 minutes of the game’s three 40-minute periods – generated the bulk of the scoring chances before head coach Dominic Kinnear made a line change and watched a host of youngsters and newcomers hold down the fort down the stretch.
Danny Cruz scored on an opportunistic volley in the eighth minute after a poor clearance from Crew starting goalkeeper Ray Burse, and Eddie Robinson snapped home a header off Brad Davis corner kick in the 52nd minute before the starters were subbed out.
Brian Ching and Jason Garey came on with the substitutes and each tallied a goal before the final whistle. Ching finished off a scramble in front of the goal after a well-placed corner kick from Mike Chabala in the 90th minute, and Garey finished off the scoring with a 104th-minute penalty kick after Ching broke through the Crew defense and was pulled to the ground.
Houston improved to 3-0 against MLS foes this preseason with the win.
The Crew, meanwhile, endured a frustrating final tuneup ahead of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match on Feb. 22 against Real Salt Lake. They lost defender Shaun Francis to an apparent left leg injury in the fifth minute of the match and saw Dilly Duka leave the game with an apparent abdominal injury in the opening minutes of the second period.
Crew head coach Robert Warzycha – who like Kinnear went with his expected starters for 60 minutes before emptying his bench – did not expound on the injuries to either player or their availability for the upcoming Real Salt Lake match at Crew Stadium.
Columbus also saw the premature departure of forward Andres Mendoza, who was shown a straight red card for elbowing Robertson after the two exchanged heated words earlier in the match. The Crew were allowed to make a substitution and played with 11 men for the duration of the match.
The Dynamo got in on the physical action as well, as Lovel Palmer earned a red card for a reckless tackle on Crew starting forward Emilio Renteria late in the second period, and trialist JeVaughn Watson was sent off not long after for a tackle on the Crew’s Leandre Griffit.
Griffit and Meram shone the brightest among the Crew’s subs, with the rookie Meram tallying his first preseason goal in the 77th minute on a breakaway after a nice feed from new draft pick Bernardo Anor.
Meram added a second tally on a pitch-perfect header in the 95th minute, redirecting Griffit’s corner kick into the back of the net.
The Dynamo started Cam Weaver and rookie Will Bruin up top and gave Akron product Kofi Sarkodie another starting look at defense, while recently signed Jamaican import Jermaine Taylor also got the start on the back line. Midfielder Geoff Cameron started and was active before he left the game in the second period after a knee-to-knee collision with Crew rookie midfielder Rich Balchan.
The Crew backbone of players like defenders Chad Marshall, Andy Iro, Robbie Rogers and Rentería saw expected minutes ahead of next week’s CCL match, with Rogers blasting a shot off the post in the opening minutes of the second period for the starting group’s best scoring chance of the match.
HOU -- Danny Cruz (unassisted) 8
HOU -- Eddie Robinson (Brad Davis) 52
CLB -- Justin Meram (Bernardo Anor) 78
HOU -- Brian Ching (Mike Chabala) 91
CLB -- Justin Meram (Leandre Griffit) 95
HOU -- Jason Garey (penalty kick) 104
CLB -- Andres Mendoza (caution) 18
CLB -- Andres Mendoza (ejection) 18
HOU -- Jermaine Taylor (caution) 31
HOU -- Cam Weaver (caution) 33
CLB -- Emmanuel Ekpo (caution) 36
HOU -- Brad Davis (caution) 38
HOU -- Lovel Palmer (ejection) 58
HOU -- JeVaughn Watson (ejection) 64
Columbus Crew – Ray Burse (Alex Riggs 61), Sebastian Miranda (Ben Sippola 61), Chad Marshall (Josh Williams 61), Andy Iro (Kwaku Nyamekye 61), Shaun Francis (Josh Gardner 8, Cory Elenio 78), Dilly Duka (Bernardo Anor 45, Eric Gehrig 107), Rich Balchan (Cole Grossman 61), Emmanuel Ekpo (Léandre Griffit 61), Robbie Rogers (Santiago Prim 61), Andres Mendoza (Jeff Cunningham 19, Andy Adlard 81), Emilio Renteria (Justin Meram 61).
Houston Dynamo – Tally Hall (Tyler Deric 41, Evan Newton 81), Kofi Sarkodie (Jordan Graye 61), Jermaine Taylor (Bobby Boswell 61), Eddie Robinson (Andrew Hainault (61), Hunter Freeman (Mike Chabala 61), Danny Cruz (Corey Ashe 61, Josue Soto 92), JeVaughn Watson (Alex Dixon 64), Geoff Cameron (Lovel Palmer 55, Richard Edwards 58), Brad Davis (Francisco Navas Cobo 61), Cam Weaver (Brian Ching 61), Will Bruin (Jason Garey 61).