The New York Red Bulls knew they were traveling to Houston to face a team that felt it had something to prove. The Dynamo had let a 2-1 lead at half-time against Portland Timbers slip into a 4-2 loss in its last outing, and the team was looking for a performance it could say was more fitting of its new, positive, free-scoring identity under head coach Wilmer Cabrera. Houston will be justly satisfied with a 4-1 win in front of its home crowd, but this match could easily - and maybe should - have been a 1-1 draw.
RBNY didn’t play well enough over 90 minutes to say it should have won the game, but it also didn’t deserve to lose to two at-best questionable goals. A couple of bad decisions turned a match Houston looked capable of turning without such assistance - this Dynamo needs no charity, but it got a helping hand from referee Fotis Bazakos, who took away an interesting game and replaced it with an injustice.
The Red Bulls had drawn first blood, through Bradley Wright-Phillips in the 13th minute, but the Dynamo quickly bounced back - equalizing in the 14th as Dylan Remick was left all alone and unmarked at a corner. Luis Robles couldn’t do much about the header that fizzed past him into the net.
The game stayed tied until Bazakos intervened to tilt the game decisively the way of the Houston Dynamo. The turning point came in just after Damien Perrinelle subbed into the match in the 39th minute for an injured Aurelien Collin. He challenged Maruo Manotas inside the Red Bulls Area and won the ball. Sadly Bazakos blew his whistle and pointed to the spot.
Perrinelle got the ball first, tapping it away from Manotas, who takes the invitation to stumble over the defender and go to ground - looking back hopefully to see if he he won the call. Bazakos whistled for the foul, ignored the Red Bulls’ protests, and Erick Torres hit the net from the spot.
About 10 minutes after the start of the second half, Bazakos made his second big blunder. In the 56th minute, Robles pulled off a big save to keep RBNY in the game. The rebound went to Torres who whiffed on his first effort to fire back on goal. With his second attempt, he got some help from Andrew Wenger - who was not just in an offside position, but also blocking Robles’ line of sight.
The goal should have been ruled out because Wenger’s offside position is the reason Robles didn’t see the ball until the Dynamo man has ducked out of the way, and the shot glanced awkwardly off the ‘keeper’s gloves. But Bazakos stuck with that decision too, and RBNY was 3-1 down with 30 minutes to play.
There was nothing wrong with Torres’ third goal. He claimed his hat-trick in injury time with a beautiful free kick that beat the wall and had just enough on it to power past the hand Robles was able to get to the ball.
The Dynamo played very well; the Red Bulls did not - as demonstrated by the fact RBNY’s lead in the match lasted only a minute. But there could have been more to this game than the rout Houston inflicted upon the Red Bulls if Bazakos had let the teams settle the match without the intervention of a couple of questionable decisions.
As it was, the only RBNY bright spot was Bradley Wright-Phillips’ goal - assisted by Sacha Kljestan. BWP beat Tyler Deric for his second tally of the MLS season, and 71st career regular-season goal. And it was his eighth career goal against the Dynamo.
The Dynamo looked much the better team and was not undeserving of three points. But two of its four goals were highly questionable - as Dynamo Broadcasters Glenn Davis and Eddie Robinson did not hesitate to say on their broadcast.
We’ll never know if Houston could have conjured the win by fair means rather than flawed refereeing. And RBNY has little choice but to take its sense of injustice back East as it focuses on its next game: another road match, next weekend in Central Florida, when the Red Bulls will take on Orlando City in the shiny, new, purpose-built purple palace on Church Street.