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.
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.
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.