Hey, what do you know? The New York Red Bulls and the Houston Dynamo are playing a match for the seventeenth time this season! It's getting to feel like these are the only two teams in Major League Soccer. Fortunately for everyone, this is the final meeting. When last they met (a whopping two and half days ago) New York took an early 2-0 lead and, for the majority of the first half, looked poised to walk out of Houston with a win for the third time this year. The second half, however, was a completely different story. The Red Bulls took their foot off the gas and allowed the Dynamo to equalize after going going down a man in the final thirty minutes. I'm sure anyone would say that an away draw in the playoffs is a great result, and they'd be right, but after giving up a two goal lead, it felt like a loss. Tonight, the Red Bulls are in a favorable position: win at home and they advance.
Here's what we know:
- Houston has go to be tired.
The Dynamo will be playing their third game in under a week. That's going to take its toll on any team, regardless of age. The fact that they were chasing a two point gap in their last match isn't going to help matters. They had to play hard to pull even with the Red Bulls, who mostly just sat back and absorbed pressure for the majority of the match. Houston's tired legs will help out a slightly depleted New York back four....which leads us to our next point.
- No Olave, no problem?
The Red Bulls have struggled when Olave isn't on the pitch. One only needs to look at Andrew Wiebe's latest column to see just how different. Out of the seven matches that New York has played without the burly Colombian defender, they have only won two. That's not a great stat to have going into a do or die match in the playoffs. New York isn't entirely without hope, however. The last time Olave missed a match, Ibrahim Sekagya and Markus Holgersson did a fine job with their partnership at center back. Sekagya may have gotten off to a rough start in New York but he seems to have settled into the MLS style of play. We just have to hope he doesn't commit any more stupid fouls in the box. He was lucky not to give up a penalty kick in the dying minutes of the last match.
Here's what we don't know:
- Where is New York's head at?
Before last Sunday's match, the Red Bulls were riding a confidence high like they'd never ridden before. After Sunday's match, they were walking back into the locker room with their heads down. New York has normally bounced back well after disappointing results so we can assume they'll be able to come into tonight's match feeling good. Something to keep into account, however, is the fact that the Red Bulls have never won a playoff game in Red Bull Arena. That has to be in the back of their minds. It's also worth noting that New York had never won a major trophy in Red Bull Arena (or anywhere else ever) and they got that monkey off of their back this season, so why not keep that train rolling? If the Red Bulls can keep focused and play the game the way they have been playing it over the last month, they shouldn't have any problems pulling off a win.
- How about those yellow cards?
Jonny Steele, Thierry Henry, Brandon Barklage and David Carney are all going into this match with a yellow card. That means if they get one tonight, they're out for the next match, should New York advance. So how does that affect their play? Since both Barklage and Carney will most likely be playing as outside backs, you can bet dollars to donuts that Houston is going to play physical with them and try to coax them into some kind of retaliation. Knowing full well that could cost New York going forward, the Dynamo has to hope it will force the two backs into playing a little more timidly. The outside chance that New York's next mach could be on the turf up in New England is a pretty good indication that Henry will most certainly get that second yellow tonight. I'm joking, of course.....but I'm also kind of not.
Here's what we think:
Last Sunday's match started pretty and turned ugly. Is a 2-2 draw on the road the worst result in the world? No. Does it prove that the Curse of Caricola is still alive and well? For crying out loud, no. Does it put New York in a good position to advance to the next round? Absolutely. It's been said a million times, but the New York Red Bulls are a different team when they play at home. Regardless of who is missing, this team has the depth, the talent and most importantly, the heart to get the result they need tonight. Houston isn't going to sit back and allow themselves to get routed 5-2 like the Chicago Fire did, so we can expect a good, close match, but New York has to be feeling confident about their chances.