HOUSTON – The New York Red Bulls took command early, but then collapsed beneath the weight of a red card and a motivated second half effort from the home team Sunday, drawing with Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium, 2-2.
Houston rallied for two second half goals, including one in stoppage time, erasing a big first half from the visiting Red Bulls, thus sending the teams’ home-and-away series back up to New York tied on totals goals.
Omar Cummings finished a stoppage time scramble in front of New York’s goal for the late equalizer. Dynamo teammates Ricardo Clark had cut New York’s lead in half with a deflected 52nd-minute shot.
The match really turned 13 minutes later when Red Bulls center back Jamison Olave was shown a straight red for a bad tackle on Cummings. Thus, he will miss the return leg Wednesday at Red Bull Arena.
The Red Bulls, who were rolling so mightily, with so much authority and swagger through the final weeks of Major League Soccer’s regular season, appeared ready to do the same in the playoffs. If there was any doubt about whether Mike Petke’s team, the 2013 Supporters Shield winners, would forfeit some of that confidence and form once into the post-season, the visitors had removed all doubt within half an hour.
Tim Cahill’s header off Thierry Henry’s swell assist got things going, and by the time Eric Alexander turned and fired into the near post after 30 minutes, the Red Bulls seemed well in control of the Eastern Conference semifinal first leg.
But things changed in the second half, and especially so after Olave’s 65th minute ejection. Houston had all the momentum from there.
Petke’s team looked quite dangerous from the start, sitting back and not really even trying to play with much possession on Houston’s small field. It worked perfectly as Henry got isolated along the left side. His nifty little turn created enough room for a centering ball, which Cahill turned into his first MLS playoff goal on an unchallenged header.
Yes, an unchallenged header; this year’s Dynamo defense just hasn’t been the classic, tough unit to score against we are so used to seeing from Dominic Kinnear clubs.
The defending was sloppy once again as Alexander got free down the right, the finishing touches of yet another quick thrust from the visitors. He turned on Eric Brunner and beat Houston ‘keeper Tally Hall – who didn’t look good on either New York goal – to the near post.
Houston had just a series of half-chances in the opening half before Will Bruin took Boniek Garcia’s sweet little release into the penalty area, pulled it around one defender to create some shooting space … but then hit his lightly contested shot well over New York goal from about 15 yards just before the break.
Houston was much stronger to start the second half, and Clark needed just six minutes to take advantage for David Carney’s awful clearance. Carney ”cleared” a ball from the wing into the middle of the field, where Clark gathered near the top of the penalty area and then saw his deflected shot beat a stranded Luis Robles. That cut the New York lead to 2-1.
New York had lost the initiative when Olave, so commanding at center back when he can stay on the field, when he is not dealing with injuries or suspensions, left his team a man down for 25 minutes.
The ball was nowhere nearby when Olave launched his dangerous tackle from behind on Cummings. Referee Ricardo Salazar was quickly on scene with red card in hand.
Cummings’ late equalizer came after a corner kick, which the Red Bulls failed to clear initially.
Kinnear, suspended but watching from a suite, used a lineup unchanged from the 11 that made easy work of Montreal in a mid-week elimination match.
Houston Dynamo: Tally Hall, Kofi Sarkodie, Eric Brunner, Bobby Boswell, Corey Ashe; Oscar Boniek Garcia, Warren Creavalle, Ricardo Clark, Brad Davis; Will Bruin, Giles Barnes.
New York Red Bulls: Luis Robles, Markus Holgersson, Ibrahim Sekagya, David Carney, Eric Alexander, Dax McCarty, Jonathan Steele, Peguy Luyidula; Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill