The Houston Dynamo are starting to run away from the competition in the Western Conference. On a hot afternoon at Robertson Stadium, the Dynamo increased their lead to seven points ahead of Real Salt Lake with a 3-1 whipping of the Kansas City Wizards.
Nate Jaqua scored two second-half goals, Kei Kamara added the first two assists of his MLS career, and Brad Davis scored his third goal in the last seven games to help the Dynamo win for the fourth consecutive match at home.
And the Dynamo did all this without the services of three key players. Brian Ching (USA), Dwayne De Rosario, and Pat Onstad (both Canada) were all out of action while helping their respective national teams in World Cup qualifying matches.
Tony Caig filled in nicely in goal for the unflappable Onstad. Caig made one save and nearly shut out the Wizards for the second time this season. Caig improved to 3-1-3 while filling in for Onstad this season and allowed just a goal by Nederland, Texas native Davy Arnaud in the 87th minute.
Houston dominated the first half, but thanks to bad luck and great goalkeeping by Kansas City's Kevin Hartman, the score was just 1-0 at the break.
Stuart Holden got free and took a perfect cross from Waibel in the 10th minute. Holden's header was a bit high, but Hartman got a hand on it to keep the game scoreless in the early going.
Ten minutes later, Kamara broke free and fired a shot on goal from about 23 yards out, but again, Hartman was there to make a stop.
In the 24th minute, Brian Mullan got around the K.C. defense and saw Kamara with room inside the box and to the right of the Wizards goalkeeper. But midfielder Kerry Zavagnin slid into the pass, knocking the ball out of harm's way.
In the 28th minute, the Dynamo finally broke through. Kamara raced ahead of the defense to corral a long flick-on in the left corner, stopped, and slid a pass back to a trailing Davis, who blasted a left-footer just under the crossbar inside the near post to make it 1-0.
Davis is one of the league's hottest players at the moment and has recorded two goals and eight assists in his last seven MLS matches.
The goal was a beauty, but Kamara's work on the play cannot be discounted. Instead of forcing a shot, he held up the ball and set up an unmarked Davis and his midfielder delivered. For Kamara, it was his first career MLS assist in 54 matches.
Before the break, the Dynamo had two more chances to double their lead, but Davis bounced what could have been an easy goal off the turf and over the crossbar in the 41st minute.
Two minutes later, Kamara got control of a loose ball and fired a shot on goal from 17 yards out only to be denied yet again by Hartman.
Putting the heat and home-field advantage to good use, the Dynamo finally put the Wizards away with a dominating second-half performance even as Herculez Gomez and Abe Thompson made their respective debuts for Kansas City.
Before leaving to a nice ovation in the 83rd minute, Jaqua cut the K.C. defense to pieces, getting open twice to break open what was a close match.
In the 54th minute, he found room just inside the box, took a square pass from Holden, and fired a shot underneath Hartman. Kamara made a nice play just to control a long pass on the right flank, and the Dynamo were rolling.
Just under 15 minutes later, Craig Waibel, getting the start with De Rosario gone, sent a beautiful long through ball to Jaqua, whose shot from inside the box flew just under the crossbar in the 68th minute, effectively ending any and all hope for the Wizards.
Arnaud provided a late consolation for the Wizards when he charged down a clearance attempt by Wade Barrett, fought off the Dynamo fullback to reach the deflection, and powered the ball home from close range.