Houston Dynamo 2 closed out the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro regular season with a thorough 2-0 victory over in-state rivals North Texas SC.
With the win, Dynamo Dos ended the year in a three-way tie for first in the MLS NEXT Pro Western Conference with 49 points. Houston finished the season unbeaten at AVEVA Stadium, ending the year with a 9-0-1 mark on their home ground.
After a scoreless first half, Dynamo Dos struck first through midfielder Marcelo Palomino just after the start of the second half. Forward Beto Avila ran onto a long free kick down the right flank and controlled the ball past a North Texas defender before playing a centering ball to Palomino at the top of the penalty area. Palomino ran onto it and put his left foot through the ball, sending it into the lower left corner of the net.
Avila set up midfielder Juan Castilla for Houston’s second of the night in the 67th minute. Avila used his body to shield a North Texas defender and turn away from him before carrying the ball down the center of the pitch. He drew two defenders to him before laying off to an unmarked Castilla racing in from the left wing. Castilla fired a left-footed shot into the back of the net for his first goal of the year.
Houston goalkeeper Justin Stewart, making his first start as a professional, kept a clean sheet and was credited with four saves on his debut.
Stewart was called into action for his first save of the night in the 29th minute, easily collecting a shot from distance by North Texas forward Collin Smith. He made an acrobatic save in the 37th minute, leaping to parry a hard shot from North Texas midfielder André Costa over the crossbar.
The 18-year-old Dynamo Academy product made another brilliant diving save in first-half stoppage to deny North Texas midfielder Blaine Ferri. Ferri’s free kick from 25 yards looked destined for the upper right corner of Stewart’s goal, but he reacted quickly to dive high to his right and palm it wide of the target. Stewart had a relatively quiet second half, but came up with a big save in the 84th to keep North Texas off the scoreboard, smothering a shot from close range at his near post.
Palomino nearly doubled the lead in the 53rd on a mirror image of his goal, this time lacing a right-footed shot off of a feed from the left flank, but North Texas goalkeeper Julian Eyestone got low to smother the shot.
Avila tested Eyestone with a shot of his own in the 60th minute. He picked up a loose ball 20 yards from goal after midfielder Diego Gonzalez poked it away from a defender, then fired a hard right-footed shot that Eyestone was able to gather in.
Winger Thiago, who came on as a substitute in the second half, hit the woodwork in the 78th minute with a hard left-footed shot from the top of the penalty area. Midfielder Paulo Lima picked up the ball and raced down the right wing before feeding Thiago at the top of the box where he turned and shot.
With the regular season complete, Dynamo Dos now move on to the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs. By virtue of the league’s tiebreaking procedures, Houston will be the third seed in the West and will head to the Pacific Northwest to take on Tacoma Defiance this weekend. The date and time of the match will be announced early this week.