Huge MLS playoff upset: Houston Dynamo stuns New York, advances into the Eastern Conference finals

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The New York Red Bulls, so traditionally blessed with world class talent, will have to wait yet another year for its first championship. And they will have one more year to considering another opportunity squandered … more or less a club hallmark.  

What looked like the high profile club’s best hope in years went all wrong Wednesday at Red Bull Arena, where the small budget, never-say-die Houston Dynamo did what it has always been so good at doing: managing the playoffs with a steely confidence and finding their way through against the odds.

The teams were level at 1-1 after 90 minutes Wednesday; the highly unlikely Dynamo’s series-winner came from Omar Cummings 14 minutes into extra time, as the visitors prevailed in the Eastern Conference semifinal total goals series, 4-3.

Houston will meet the Sporting Kansas City in the conference finals, with a trip to MLS Cup 2013 on the line. Houston has eliminated Sporting KC from the playoffs in the last two seasons, including the 2011 Eastern Conference finals.

New York’s Red Bull Arena, now four years old, has yet to host a playoff win. In fact, the Red Bulls have not won a playoff game at home (in any venue) since 2005.

Houston, the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed, was a big underdog in the series, with a total roster salary of roughly a third of the Red Bulls’ payroll.

(MORE: Houston Man of the Match, Omar Cummings)

Boniek Garcia, a Honduran international and Houston’s most creative attacker, started the sequence with a fabulous pass that put Kofi Sarkodie through on the right side. Cam Weaver headed Sarkodie’s cross back across the goal mouth, where Cummings was in position to poke home from close range. Luis Robles got over to the ball, but knocked it out just after it had crossed the line.

New York’s Brandon Barklage had slipped at the far post, allowing Weaver an unchallenged header.

The first half was all Red Bulls, but the moments that mattered were an exchange of blunders.

New York was certainly closer to scoring all along. Henry put Bradley Wright-Phillips through for the game’s first big chance, but his little shot in the 12th minute past Tally Hall lacked the pace and Corey Ashe was there to clean up before the ball could roll into goal.

Wright-Phillips was off target again in the 19th when Eric Brunner slipped, leaving the Englishman with a free header off David Carney’s cross. Then came the game’s first blunder.

Of all the reasons Houston cold have gone behind – something special from Thierry Henry, fatigue from 5th game in 14 days, etc. – what happened Wednesday was surely a toughie. Hall, who wasn’t at his best on the two goals conceded Sunday in Houston, fumbled a benign cross from the right side; Wright-Phillips cleaned it up easily for a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute.

The blunder at the other end arrived off the right foot of Red Bulls center back Ibrahim Sekagya, who was laboring with an apparent hamstring issue. He won a ball near the top of the penalty area but made the jayvee mistake of playing a flat ball across his own goal. Davis picked off the pass and calmly slotted past Luis Robles.

It was Davis’ third playoff goal, but his first in the post-season since 2007 (which happens to be the last time Houston won MLS Cup).

(MORE: Tally Hall rallies from early blunder to save Dynamo night)

Caution ruled much of the second half, with Houston clearly more interested in taking the game. What chances that were all came at the Red Bulls attacking end. Henry’s twisting header in the 65th caressed the crossbar. Eric Alexander came in to create some trouble. Henry very nearly won it a minute into stoppage time with an audacious overhead kick, which deflected out for a corner kick.

Houston wanted to play counter-attack soccer (the way New York did so well Sunday in Texas) but just isn’t as good at that game as the Red Bulls. So Robles was rarely bothered in the home team’s goal – not until the telling moment, that is.

Giovinco strikes twice to lift Toronto FC to Canadian Championship (video)

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Sebastian Giovinco scored twice including in stoppage time as Toronto FC overcame Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla’s fantastic strike to win 2-1 in the second leg of the Canadian Championship at BMO Field on Tuesday.

TFC held the advantage after a 1-1 first leg in Montreal. The Reds advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Tabla, who just turned 18 in March, is an Ivorian-born Canadian youth international who now has four senior goals for the Impact.

Montreal veteran Patrice Bernier saw red in the 89th minute, putting the Impact’s chances behind the 8-ball.

[ MORE: USMNT Gold Cup questions ]

Toronto FC entered the match with a road goal advantage, which was undone in the quick flash of a left-foot, as Tabla dug a ball from underneath him and past a flying Clint Irwin to make it 2-1 on aggregate.

The goal was a double whammy for Toronto, which went to the break knowing it would need to score twice (or win in penalty kicks) to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Yet TFC came back after a horrendous pass from Montreal, as Michael Bradley pinged a gorgeous diagonal ball to Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant recovered from a tough opening touch to bury his chance. 1-1.

And, oh yeah, watch this man work for his second…

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

[ MORE: Saul scores stunner for Spain U-21s ]

So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side Ramat haSharon in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona — The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan — Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer — If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj — The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.