Dynamo, Sounders tie in playoff opener

SEATTLE, WA [SPORTS BLOG: Read the latest from the Eyewitness Sports team]

Freddie Ljungberg said he didn't know what the referee was doing. Teammate Nate Jaqua played with blood gushing down his face. And the largest opening-round crowd in MLS playoff history roared incessantly, as if it was a freewheeling shootout -- not a 0-0 draw.

Blood, noise, yellow cards and a disputed whistle outnumbered scoring chances as expansion Seattle made its MLS postseason debut with a scoreless tie against the more experienced and bullish Houston Dynamo on Thursday night.

"It's not rugby. It's still soccer," said an annoyed Ljungberg, the Swedish star and veteran of England's Premier League.

The fourth scoreless tie for each team this season means this home-and-home, aggregate-goals round and berth in the one-game conference final will be settled by a simple, most-goals-wins match Nov. 8 in Houston, where the Dynamo are 4-1 in the playoffs. They also have the league's best home winning percentage over the last four seasons.

"We'll see how the game gets interpreted differently down there," said Seattle's Sigi Schmid, the MLS leader in career coaching wins with 19 in his time with Los Angeles and Columbus. "Maybe things will be different a little bit."

"I'm puzzled," an angry Schmid said of the calls by Ricardo Salazar, noting the referee gave Seattle three yellow cards for six fouls and Houston three for 18 fouls.

The upstart Sounders missed an opportunity against the tired Dynamo, who were playing their fourth game in 12 days. Seattle couldn't take advantage of dominating possession, or the energy created by 35,807 fans at Qwest Field. It was the largest crowd for a conference semifinal playoff match in MLS' 13-year history.

Most of the rowdy fans were standing, singing and chanting and waving signs such as "Welcome to Green Hell" throughout the chilly night.

Lead owner and Hollywood filmmaker Joe Roth attended, and actor Carey wore a white team cap and one of the green-and-blue team scarves that were everywhere in the stadium and atop freeway overpasses around the city.

"We feel the tie benefits us more," Houston All-Star Brad Davis said. "Our plan was to match the intensity of their team, especially coming into a crowd with 35,000 people, and not give them much room to operate. We knew we were coming into a hostile environment."

Houston, seeking its third league title in four seasons, brought its own hostility.

The two stingiest defenses during the regular season -- 29 goals against each in 31 games -- bulled through 60 minutes. There were only two prime scoring chances in that span.

Former Dynamo player Patrick Ianni, who started because Tyrone Marshall had a sprained knee, headed a shot off the crossbar in the 43rd minute on long free kick by Ljungberg. In the 58th minute, Davis had his shot from the top of the penalty area poked away with a right hand by diving goalkeeper Kasey Keller.

In the 16th minute, Houston goalkeeper Pat Onstad bulled Fredy Montero, Seattle's top scorer, to the ground in front of the goal after a whistle.

"It was a bowling ball and a bowling pin," Schmid huffed. Onstad received a yellow card, and later said he deserved it. Montero, who was playing ill, got carded for racing up off the turf and charging at his 41-year-old opponent.

Ljungberg, who missed on numerous passes early in his first MLS playoff game, told Onstad at the end of the skirmish, "You know better than that." Houston's Brian Mullan then yanked Seattle's Jhon Kennedy Hurtado away from the scrum with his arm around Hurtado's neck.

The raucous crowd lustily booed Onstad each time he touched the ball after that.

Eleven minutes later, Houston's Ricardo Clark kicked former Dynamo forward Nate Jaqua above his left eye. Blood trickled down his face into the second half, when the most impressive player in the match summoned trainers to wrap the circumference of his head. Seattle's 2008 expansion draft pick from Houston also had to change his bloodstained jersey, into one with no name or number on the back.

"That's what I expect," Jaqua said of the Dynamo. "They've been good in the playoffs because they are physical."

Jaqua broke free on Onstad in the 77th minute and put the ball in the net, but Salazar had whistled Mullan for a foul behind the play, on Ljungberg near midfield.

"I don't know what the referee was doing," Ljungberg said. "He'd let that go before. If you want to give the yellow card, you let that play go and then give the card. I can't say too much. I need to play the last few games."

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