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New York Red Bulls and Houston set to decide their Eastern Conference semifinal

Nov 6, 2013, 6:11 PM EDT

Dax McCarty
  • Kickoff at Red Bull Arena is set for 8 p.m. ET (Univision)
  • Houston is playing its fifth match in 14 days
  • The teams are tied in the two-game, aggregate goals series, 2-2
  • New York is 3-0 against Houston at Red Bull Arena over the last two years, and without a goal
  • If the game is tied, a 30-minute extra time will decide the series, followed by penalty kicks, if necessary
  • Houston has not played well at Red Bull Arena, where the teams meet on Wednesday with the total goals series tied at 2-2:

Late goals and an inspired second half effort from Houston will give the visitors from Texas hope, but Dominic Kinnear and crew still have lots of work ahead as the determined Dynamo and New York, talented and now in splendid form, conclude their home-and-away Eastern Conference semifinal clash.

Jamison Olave’s absence will also give the visitors some food for happy thought; the Red Bulls’ dominating center back is suspended for collecting a red card as the teams drew Sunday in Houston, 2-2. That’s good news for a Houston attack that sorely misses some creativity.

Still, as the teams prepare to kick off Wednesday night in Harrison, N.J., consider what the Red Bulls have going for them:

They were largely in control, even on the road, on Sunday before Olave’s ejection put Houston a man up at home for 25 minutes. The Red Bulls sit-and-counter game was bothering Houston, handicapped in defense without one of its own starting center backs, injured Jamaican international Jermaine Taylor.

The Dynamo has not played well at Red Bull Arena, where they lost 2-0 earlier this year. They fell 1-0 and 2-0 in Harrison last year, but did manage a 1-1 draw in early 2011. Overall, the Red Bulls are 11-2-4 at home this year with a plus-18 goal difference.

(MORE: What we learned from Sunday’s Houston-Red Bulls draw)

Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, the Red Bulls’ game-changers in the attack, are playing well, wearing their roles well now for first-year manager Mike Petke. So is Peguy Luyindula, who has found a home in Petke’s arrangement as the attacking midfielder, so adept at launching the Red Bulls’ highly effective bursts into the attacking half.

And this may be most telling of all: The Dynamo is playing its fifth match in 14 days, with four lengthy plan trips in between. That’s a lot hard miles on the tires at the end of a season that started back in January (pre-season training camp.)

The Red Bulls will, however, have to guard against any psychological undertow from Sunday. Not so much from the result – a road draw to begin a home-and-away set is  typically something to feel good about – but rather from the way it unfolded. Petke’s bunch was well in control after 45 minutes, having limited the home team’s chances and taken a deserved 2-0 lead. The Red Bulls had one hoof on the series, but allowed Houston to climb back in thanks to Olave’s needless red card, one terrible clearance and a failure to mark tightly right at the end on Houston’s late, late equalizer.

(MORE: Notes on Houston ahead of Wednesday’s second leg)

“We have to stay positive because we are in a favorable position,” Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty (pictured) said after Sunday’s match in Houston. “It’s not like it’s the end of the world.”

Houston certainly has a way of grinding out results. The core of the team that landed in the last two MLS Cup finals remains intact. Houston’s forwards have been up and down this year, but All-Star midfielder Brad Davis can still deliver some sharp restart service, and fellow attacker Boniek Garcia can create along the right. If the Dynamo can clean up some defensive issues and get just a little better work from Tally Hall in goal, no reason to eliminate the chances of an upset.

Plus, Davis reminded everyone of Houston’s signature ability to find a way: “This is one of the biggest reasons I absolutely enjoy being with this team,” the veteran U.S. international said Sunday. “It’s a group of guys that will absolutely never say die. That’s a big reason why we’re successful in the post-season, in getting into the playoffs and doing absolutely whatever we have to.”

(Notes on Houston and New York still ahead at ProSoccerTalk)

  1. 76bean - Nov 5, 2013 at 7:06 PM

    The Dynamo are a very good team, maybe the best, when they can hit the target. They dominate the stats except for goals. If the Dynamo can hit the target then they will win. If the goal drought continues then it’s all over.

  2. geojock - Nov 6, 2013 at 9:13 AM

    Impossible to call this game. Will it be the Dynamo team who has lost by record margin this year? Or will it be the magical playoff team?

    If i was Houston, I might try to play conservative in more of a bunker to start. Dont get caught on the counter. Hope to get a set piece and have Davis whip one in. Then 2nd half go for the win.

  3. mikeevergreen - Nov 6, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    This Houston team is a dead man walking. I also described my favorite Chicago Fire team that way going into NY 10 days ago. NY is loaded AND in form.

    RBNY 4-1 Houston Dynamo.

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