United played with the same spirit that had carried the limping club into the playoffs for the first time in five years and within an improbable step of MLS Cup. But, as team President Kevin Payne conceded in a solemn locker room, “There is only so much you can overcome, so many blows.”
Needing to win by multiple goals, second-seeded United settled for a 1-1 draw with the fifth-seeded Houston Dynamo and lost the two-game, total-goals series on a 4-2 aggregate in front of 20,015 raucous spectators.
Houston will play the Los Angeles Galaxy for the championship on Dec. 1. Los Angeles advanced, 4-2 on aggregate, following a 2-1 loss to host Seattle on Sunday night in the Western Conference finals.
The biggest blow was Boniek Garcia’s goal in the 33rd minute, which extended the Dynamo’s overall advantage to three in the series. Branko Boskovic equalized in the 83rd minute — too little, too late for a United squad that had dropped last weekend’s opener in Houston, 3-1, and could ill afford to fall behind at home.
“At some point, it’s just not going to be good enough down the stretch if you have injuries and you’re not playing with your full squad,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “But I am glad we hung on this long. It shows the spirit this group has because things have not been easy. There have been obstacles after obstacle, and these kids kept pushing through.”
Top scorer Chris Pontius, who injured his groin 12 minutes into the series opener, wasn’t in uniform.
“He was done,” Olsen said. “He would have been a question mark for the finals” in two weeks.
Center back Brandon McDonald was shelved by a calf injury. Right back Andy Najar was serving a league-imposed suspension. Midfielder Lewis Neal was slated to start but was scratched with a sore thigh, reducing him to a second-half role. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid almost didn’t play because of a back ailment.
Dwayne De Rosario, United’s most important player, did return from a two-month layoff caused by a knee injury, entering in the 62nd minute to a rousing ovation. Although the 2011 league MVP invigorated a desperate attack, United squandered several opportunities and, for the ninth time in the last 10 matches, failed to score more than one goal.
“The whole second half, we were in the their end,” defender Robbie Russell said of his team hording 69 percent of possession after intermission. “There were chances to win it.”
Hamdi Salihi, the second of three substitutions early in the second half, bungled two clean runs on goal without getting off a shot. Russell missed a short volley and Maicon Santos sent a header wide.