New York Red Bulls and Houston set to decide their Eastern Conference semifinal

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  • Kickoff at Red Bull Arena is set for 8 p.m. ET (Univision)
  • Houston is playing its fifth match in 14 days
  • The teams are tied in the two-game, aggregate goals series, 2-2
  • New York is 3-0 against Houston at Red Bull Arena over the last two years, and without a goal
  • If the game is tied, a 30-minute extra time will decide the series, followed by penalty kicks, if necessary
  • Houston has not played well at Red Bull Arena, where the teams meet on Wednesday with the total goals series tied at 2-2:

Late goals and an inspired second half effort from Houston will give the visitors from Texas hope, but Dominic Kinnear and crew still have lots of work ahead as the determined Dynamo and New York, talented and now in splendid form, conclude their home-and-away Eastern Conference semifinal clash.

Jamison Olave’s absence will also give the visitors some food for happy thought; the Red Bulls’ dominating center back is suspended for collecting a red card as the teams drew Sunday in Houston, 2-2. That’s good news for a Houston attack that sorely misses some creativity.

Still, as the teams prepare to kick off Wednesday night in Harrison, N.J., consider what the Red Bulls have going for them:

They were largely in control, even on the road, on Sunday before Olave’s ejection put Houston a man up at home for 25 minutes. The Red Bulls sit-and-counter game was bothering Houston, handicapped in defense without one of its own starting center backs, injured Jamaican international Jermaine Taylor.

The Dynamo has not played well at Red Bull Arena, where they lost 2-0 earlier this year. They fell 1-0 and 2-0 in Harrison last year, but did manage a 1-1 draw in early 2011. Overall, the Red Bulls are 11-2-4 at home this year with a plus-18 goal difference.

(MORE: What we learned from Sunday’s Houston-Red Bulls draw)

Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, the Red Bulls’ game-changers in the attack, are playing well, wearing their roles well now for first-year manager Mike Petke. So is Peguy Luyindula, who has found a home in Petke’s arrangement as the attacking midfielder, so adept at launching the Red Bulls’ highly effective bursts into the attacking half.

And this may be most telling of all: The Dynamo is playing its fifth match in 14 days, with four lengthy plan trips in between. That’s a lot hard miles on the tires at the end of a season that started back in January (pre-season training camp.)

The Red Bulls will, however, have to guard against any psychological undertow from Sunday. Not so much from the result – a road draw to begin a home-and-away set is  typically something to feel good about – but rather from the way it unfolded. Petke’s bunch was well in control after 45 minutes, having limited the home team’s chances and taken a deserved 2-0 lead. The Red Bulls had one hoof on the series, but allowed Houston to climb back in thanks to Olave’s needless red card, one terrible clearance and a failure to mark tightly right at the end on Houston’s late, late equalizer.

(MORE: Notes on Houston ahead of Wednesday’s second leg)

“We have to stay positive because we are in a favorable position,” Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty (pictured) said after Sunday’s match in Houston. “It’s not like it’s the end of the world.”

Houston certainly has a way of grinding out results. The core of the team that landed in the last two MLS Cup finals remains intact. Houston’s forwards have been up and down this year, but All-Star midfielder Brad Davis can still deliver some sharp restart service, and fellow attacker Boniek Garcia can create along the right. If the Dynamo can clean up some defensive issues and get just a little better work from Tally Hall in goal, no reason to eliminate the chances of an upset.

Plus, Davis reminded everyone of Houston’s signature ability to find a way: “This is one of the biggest reasons I absolutely enjoy being with this team,” the veteran U.S. international said Sunday. “It’s a group of guys that will absolutely never say die. That’s a big reason why we’re successful in the post-season, in getting into the playoffs and doing absolutely whatever we have to.”

(Notes on Houston and New York still ahead at ProSoccerTalk)

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.