Seven seconds into the game, Houston was on their way to a potentially back-breaking loss, one which cost them lose control of their playoff destiny. But that’s how long it took for Tim Cahill, streaking toward the Houston defene at the opening kickoff, to score off a long ball from Dax McCarty, the Dynamo’s defensive error paving the way to a 3-0 defeat Sunday at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Setting a league record for fastest goal, Cahill beat Jermaine Taylor in the air on a long ball hit toward Houston’s penalty area. The Red Bull attacker headed into the vacated space, with Taylor’s partner (Bobby Boswell) slow to provide cover. One-timing his volley past Talley Hall from 19 yards out, Cahill hit a ball hit with the outside of his right foot, his shot tailing away as the Houston keeper dove for his left post. With the fifth touch of the game, New York was up 1-0.
Houston generated a number of chances to equalize before Ibrahim Sekagya doubled New York’s lead in the 65th minute. Substitute Bradley Wright-Phillips blasted his insurance off the woodwork and in to put the Red Bulls up three with 15 minutes to play, the 3-0 result vaulting the Eastern Conference leaders back to first in the Supporters’ Shield chase.
With a win next week over Chicago, New York will claim their first major honor in club history as well as earn home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and although Chicago will be fighting for their playoffs lives, the Red Bulls will be favored to close out their campaign with a win at Red Bull Arena.
After the loss, Houston’s third of the season to New York, the Dynamo also find themselves fighting for their playoff lives. Now sitting sixth in the East, Dom Kinnear’s squad will need help to continue their quest for a third straight MLS Cup final appearance. That help could come from New York (who play Chicago next week), Toronto (who face Montréal), or Columbus (taking on New England). If, however, the teams that sit third through fifth in the East all win next weekend, Houston is out.1
It’s an amazing turn of events given Houston seemed to right their ship after their midseason impotence, yet here we are, with one weekend left, and Houston’s decided to out Seattle the Sounders. Not only are they face-planting, but they’re on the outside looking in. At least Seattle had the foresight to collapse once they were all but clinched.2
For a team that many picked in March to come out of the East, Houston’s was an unexpectedly poor performance in a must-win game. And yes, “must-win” gets thrown around too much, but at the point you’re about to lose control of your playoff destiny, you have to start winning games. There’s no way Houston can look at this result and say “live to fight another day.” They no longer get to decide when that next day comes.
The problems have been in defense, where the team is too often giving up goals uncharacteristic of a Kinnear-coach team. They’ve also been in attack, where the team has gone through stretches unable to consistently produce goals.
And not to over-simplify the game, but if you have trouble putting goals on the scoresheet and keeping your opponents off it, then you’re probably not a very good team. Tonight, Houston was not, and if may have cost them a spot in this year’s post season.
1 – Houston is out in that scenario unless they win and out-score New England by 10, in which case they’ll pass the Revolution on the league’s second tiebreaker: Goals scored.
2- San Jose caveats apply.