Sporting Kansas City's Jimmy Nielsen made three saves, and Houston's Tally Hall had two stops in a 0-0 draw between Kansas City and the Dynamo in the first leg of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday.
The second leg will be Nov. 23 in Kansas City after a two-week break for FIFA international games.
"It was a great result for us," Nielsen said. "Both teams came with a very good attitude. I had a rough game midweek. Bringing in that intensity, the game that developed today was very awesome."
Houston appeared to take a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute as Kofi Sarkodie got a pass in the right box and sent one across into the net, but Sarkodie was called offside.
Nielsen kept the game scoreless in the 29th minute, making a diving save to his right on Boniek Garcia's free kick from 30 yards out. The Dynamo have eliminated Kansas City from the playoffs each of the last two years.
"We knew it was going to be an ugly game and it was," Houston's Bobby Boswell said. "But I thought we fought hard, there was no drop off, we had guys in and out and I think everyone played well. The guys who came on gave us a boost. Like I said you can't win it in the first game but you can definitely lose it and I think we've given ourselves a chance going into Kansas City."
Teal Bunbury had a shot from 10 yards out stopped in the 39th minute. On the counterattack, Will Bruin had a shot from 35 yards out in the middle sail just above the crossbar.
Nielsen stopped another Houston opportunity in the 57th minute, saving Cam Weaver's header from 8 yards out.
"Our objective wasn't necessarily to score a goal, not losing of course, and that's what we did," Kansas City midfielder Aurelien Collin said. "We could have scored a couple. I could have scored one. We didn't, but we didn't lose. They have to come to our place. Everybody in the league knows it's difficult to play in our place."
Both teams came into the game fatigued as Houston played six games in 17 days and Kansas City played five games in 17 days.
"What would you like me to say?" Houston coach Dominic Kinnear said. "That we played 6 games in 18 days, with travel? I'm really proud of the guys, the effort they put into today with all we've gone through in the last 2 weeks we easily could have taken the easy way out and complained but they didn't say anything.
Kansas City coach Peter Vermes said the game was not pretty for either team, and it was an absolute battle.
"Good to get out with no goals scored against," Vermes said. "We know what the return match will be. It will be a final because it is the last team for both teams. What I really credit my guys for is keeping their composure, battling every single roll of the ball and getting a clean sheet here. It is not an easy thing to do here at this stadium or against this team."