The Houston Dynamo fought back to score three second-half goals, earning a 3-1 home win over D.C. United in the first leg of the Eastern Conference final.
The visitors took a surprising lead 22 minutes in, as Lionard Pajoy found room behind the Dynamo defense. His shot struck the far post, but rebounded kindly to Nick DeLeon, whose shot took a fortunate deflection off Andre Hainault to find the back of the net.
Injuries were a big hindrance to the visitors, however, as they were forced to withdraw Chris Pontius just 12 minutes in with a groin injury. By the 55th minute, United had no subs left, as Marcelo Saragosa and Brandon McDonald also had to exit due to injury.
The game's defining moment arrived just before halftime. Substitute Raphael Augusto found his way in behind the Houston defense, and Hainault dragged the Brazilian to the ground just outside the box. Referee Ricardo Salazar waved play on when replays suggested not only a clear foul, but also that Hainault was the last man back, which would have drawn a red card.
Buoyed by the favorable call, the Dynamo struck back in a strong second half effort. The equalizer came off a quick restart, with Boniek Garcia taking advantage of a slumbering D.C. defense, and crossing for, of all people, Hainault to finish.
The Dynamo's second came with just over 20 minutes to play. Giles Barnes made quick work of Dejan Jakovic and got a cross off which Joe Willis could only palm into the path of Will Bruin, who scuffed a shot home. With D.C. reeling, the home side got a crucial third just minutes before the final whistle, as Kofi Sarkodie took advantage of a poor clearance by Augusto to slam a shot past Willis.
United will return home to RFK Stadium on Sunday, needing to win by at least two goals in the second leg to reach MLS Cup.
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