SOC - Dynamo Playoffs vs. New York

What we learned from Sunday’s Houston Dynamo-New York Red Bulls draw


Mike Petke gets the tactics right

The Red Bulls may have squandered a chance to truly take command in this series, but they still stand well positioned. Houston’s big second half effort, mostly about pride and want-to, was sufficient for the draw.

But none of that changes this fact: the Red Bulls had the right plan once again for BBVA Compass Stadium.

The field is small, so possession within the cramped workings is never easy here. So manager Mike Petke and his team really didn’t bother. Rather, they just sat and waited for their chances to counter. If Houston did have time to get into defensive shape, the balls from New York’s end were aimed into Tim Cahill’s head. Again, no reason to dilly dally with possession on the small field. (And one without much grass, as the growing season is over in Houston, something that made retaining the ball a little trickier still.)

The Red Bulls were confident that Houston’s central midfield duo, Ricardo Clark or Warren Creavalle, for all their positive attributes, would lose possession enough in the middle to give the visitors their share of counter-attacking chances. And the Dynamo men did.

Boniek Garcia drifted in from the right to help with possession, but that only pulled the Dynamo further out of shape when they did lose the ball.

And when they do lose the ball, New York is very, very good at this. Cahill and Henry know just where to move, and do so with a brutal efficiency. Peguy Luyindula knows just how to find them in space.

(MORE: Man of the Match, New York’s Tim Cahill)

Jermaine Taylor’s absence matters

Also title this one, “Eric Brunner: Just not that man’s day.”

We will spend plenty of time over the next two or three days talking about what Jamison Olave’s loss will mean to the Red Bulls. But the Dynamo was already missing a starting center back – and it sure helped shape this series.

Jermaine Taylor, Bobby Boswell’s central partner in the Houston defense for two years now, is injured. Eric Brunner was more than enough against Montreal four days ago, but he struggled mightily Sunday against a much better opponent.

Brunner was immediately up against it, down on the ground within 60 seconds after finding himself on the business end of one of those Tim Cahill aerial challenges.

Not much later, Brunner and left back Corey Ashe failed to communicate adequately on the Red Bulls’ first goal, as Cahill drifted right in between them to pound a header past goalkeeper Tally Hall. And it was Brunner who was spun around by Eric Alexander’s dribbling for the Red Bulls’ second goal. (No offense to Alexander, a strong role player along the right this year for New York, but no one has ever confused him with Arjen Robben for his dribbling prowess along the right side.)

In the second half, as Houston pressed for the equalizer, Brunner got a free header on one of Brad Davis’ corner kicks … only to see it zip just wide. Truly, this just wasn’t his day.

Which brings us back to Taylor, an underrated element of the Dynamo back line. If he’s in there, the Dynamo day may have started much differently. Either way, if the Dynamo cannot defend better than it did in the first half Sunday, there won’t be any need for a Brunner vs. Taylor debate.

(MORE: Match recap, as New York scores early but collapses late)

Thursday’s win over Montreal was a mirage

Credit Houston for a big second half rally, but this Dynamo version still has some issues.

And that big, 3-0 mid-week win over Montreal? I think we all suspected that it might have been a lot of “down Montreal” more than “Houston rising.”  Now it looks more like that was precisely the case.

Will Bruin still misses too many chances to be encroaching into a place where we might call him an elite striker. His first half miss Sunday, from in close, a shot that sailed high over the bar after he was put through by Boniek Garcia, was the perfect example. Bruin can score goals, of course, but can he score important ones, and consistently so? Missing the good chances in big matches is a killer.

Still, he was better than Giles Barnes, who didn’t really announce himself at all on Sunday.

The accuracy on Davis’ set piece service right now just isn’t what it needs to be. (The lack of thick grass at BBVA on Sunday may have affected his service; it’s hard to hit a good dead ball off that stuff.)

Hall found himself in a bad spot on the first Red Bulls goal, and then got beat too easily to the near post by Alexander.

All of this is why Houston needed a win in its final regular season just to make the playoffs.

MLS Cup Playoffs: FC Dallas 2-2 (3-5 agg.) Portland Timbers

Fanendo Adi, Portland Timbers FC
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The game in 100 words (or less): The Portland Timbers are headed to their first MLS Cup in club history after defeating FC Dallas, 5-3 on aggregate, of the Western Conference finals (2-2 draw in the second leg). Fanendo Adi scored in Sunday’s second leg, giving Caleb Porter’s side a 4-1 aggregate lead before Ryan Hollingshead and Blas Perez scored inside the last 25 minutes to give Oscar Pareja’s bunch a late lifeline, but Lucas Melano’s spectacular tap-in sealed the Timbers’ trip to MLS Cup. The third seed heading into the playoffs, Portland bounced Sporting Kansas City in an epic penalty shootout in the knockout round and outlasted the Vancouver Whitecaps in the conference semifinals before knocking off the West’s top seed over two legs to advance to MLS Cup 2015. No matter who advances from the East finals later on Sunday, Portland will play away in MLS Cup, to either the New York Red Bulls or Columbus Crew SC.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS weekend ]

Three Four moments that mattered

54′ — Adi fires past Gonzalez to make if 4-1 — Oscar Pareja elected to go with Walker Zimmerman at center back on Sunday, dropping regular starter Zach Loyd to the bench. On the game’s opening goal, it was Zimmerman who wound up on the ground as Adi received the ball, turned and fired a massive away goal past Jesse Gonzalez.

68′ — Diaz’s magical ball curled home by Hollingshead — Mauro Diaz is a wonderful magician capable of playing the kill through ball from anywhere on the field — this we’ve known for quite some time. His chipped through ball to set up Hollingshead’s goal was extraordinarily brilliant, even for him.

73′ — Perez heads home the free kick to pull within one — Would you be surprised to hear that it was Diaz who set up FCD’s second goal? His free kick was Perez-finding missile and found the head of the Panamanian striker at the top of the six-yard box, where 34-year-old headed home with ease.

90+5′ — Melano rounds Gonzalez, seals MLS Cup berth — Poor Jesse Gonzalez. Absolutely schooled and posterized by Lucas Melano. What a way to sew up a place in the championship final.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Mauro Diaz

Goalscorers: Adi (54′), Hollingshead (68′), Perez (73′), Melano (90+5′)

La Liga & Serie A: Real Madrid bounce back; Juventus on the charge

Gareth Bale, Real Madrid CF
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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

Eibar 0-2 Real Madrid

Real Madrid bounced back from back-to-back La Liga defeats with a 2-0 victory away to Eibar on Sunday. Gareth Bale (below video) and Cristiano Ronaldo (penalty kick) provided the goals to keep Rafa Benitez‘s bunch (27 points) third in the league, two points behind Atletico Madrid and six behind leaders Barcelona.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 2-0 Villarreal
Rayo Vallecano 0-3 Athletic Bilbao
Sevilla 1-0 Valencia

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup ]

Roma 0-2 Atalanta

Losing at home to sides currently in a relegation battle — rarely a good idea, especially if you fancy yourselves title challengers, but that didn’t stop Roma from doing just that on Sunday. Alejandro Gomez and German Denis scored the goals to knock off a 10-man Roma side (Maicon – 81st minute) and keep Rudi Garcia’s bunch (27 points) from gaining ground on any of the three teams currently ahead of them — Inter Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina — all of whom play on Monday.

AC Milan 4-1 Sampdoria

M’Baye Niang scored twice, while Giacomo Bonaventura and Luiz Adriano (below video) added single tallies for AC Milan (23 points) to keep pace with the top-five pack in Serie A. After 14 rounds of games, the Rossoneri sit sixth, a point outside fifth (UEFA Europa League) and five points out of third (UEFA Champions League).

Palermo 0-3 Juventus

Don’t look now, but here come Juventus. Sunday’s 3-0 triumph over Palermo makes it four straight wins in the league for Massimiliano Allegri’s side — a run that pushes them all the way up to fifth in the league (24 points), just six points off the pace of leaders Inter, who play on Monday. Mario Mandzukic (below video), Stefano Sturaro and Simone Zaza scored the goals for the world’s most frightening fifth-place team.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Torino 2-0 Bologna
Chievo 2-3 Udinese
Frosinone 3-2 Hellas Verona
Genoa 1-2 Carpi
Empoli 1-0 Lazio

Monday’s Serie A schedule

Sassuolo vs. Fiorentina (1 p.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Inter Milan (3 p.m. ET)

Arsenal’s injury crisis — add Sanchez, Cazorla, Koscielny to the list

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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From title challengers to just hoping to hold on to a top-four place while Arsene Wenger is forced to play reserves and academy players because half of his star players are currently out injured — the annual story of Arsenal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Oct. 27, when Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both went down with injuries in the same game, marked the unofficial start of Arsenal’s 2015-16 injury crisis, but things didn’t really get going full bore until the last seven days, when five more players — four of them full-time starters — picked up injuries that will keep them out of action for anywhere between three weeks and three months.

Added to the list last weekend: Francis Coquelin (knee – three months minimum), Mikel Arteta (calf – three weeks)

Added to the list on Sunday: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring – MORE DETAILS), Santi Cazorla (knee), Laurent Koscielny (hip)

Following Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Norwich City, Wenger said Koscielny “could not walk” due to the hip spasm that forced him out of the game after just 11 minutes. He also divulged that Cazorla, who could not be subbed off because Wenger had already used all three subs late on, played the second half “on one leg.” Sanchez came into Sunday injured after picking up a hamstring injury in Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Sunday’s PL roundup — Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs all draw ]

Arsenal fans were up in arms during the summer transfer window — let’s be honest, the following is true of every transfer window the last five years — crying out, “We must buy, we must buy.” Have a look at Arsenal’s complete injury list at the moment, and try to say, “They didn’t need to buy in the summer.”

In chronological order: Danny Welbeck (knee – early 2016 return), Tomas Rosicky (knee – Christmas time return), Jack Wilshere (leg – Christmas time return), Theo Walcott (calf – December return), Mikel Arteta (calf – three weeks), Francis Coquelin (knee – three months minimum), Laurent Koscielny (hip – to be assessed), Alexis Sanchez (hamstring – to be assessed), Santi Cazorla (knee – to be assessed)

WATCH: PL Download — Crystal Palace: South London and Proud

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Check out the latest episode of Premier League Download, a look inside Crystal Palace and the club’s passionate supporters.

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Win, lose or draw it’s always a party for the fans of Crystal Palace and Roger Bennett travels to Selhurst Park to learn how the beloved team went from Championship strugglers to a Premier League success story.

[ WATCH: Past episodes of PL Download ]