MLS Playoff Preview: New York Red Bulls at Houston Dynamo

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  • Kickoff from BBVA Compass Stadium in downtown Houston is set for 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC:
  • New York won all three meetings between these teams in 2013, including two in Houston
  • The Dynamo prevailed over Montreal (3-0) in midweek to get here
  • Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear is suspended
  • The Red Bulls avoided that mid-week elimination match by finished atop the East, and claiming Supporters Shield (for the MLS team with the best regular season record)

The New York Red Bulls may have mastered Houston in the regular season this year, and curiously so. But Dominic Kinnear’s Dynamo are masters of the MLS playoffs – so both teams have reason to like their chances as this intriguing home-and-away series gets going.

Sunday’s first leg of the totals goals series plays out at two-year-old BBVA Compass Stadium in the shadow of downtown Houston.

What makes this meeting so interesting (beyond the old argument of extra rest vs. added momentum – which we’ll get to) is this clear and somewhat contrasting edge for each team.

From New York’s side, winning all three regular season meetings of 2013 certainly must make Thierry Henry and Co. feel good about things. Mike Petke’s team downed the Dynamo in New Jersey back in June, 2-0. And funny thing, that was the least impressive among a trio of showy results. Next came a 4-1 thumping in September at BBVA Compass Stadium. And then, just two weeks ago, New York put yet another three-goal beat down on Dominic Kinnear’s proud team, once against at BBVA Compass Stadium.

That match was a strange one, where the score didn’t accurately reflect the actual match. (Also strange because it featured the fastest goal in MLS history, Tim Cahill’s opener just seven seconds after the kickoff.)

Teams just don’t bear the Orange by three goals at home, right? Only, New York did it twice this year.

“I’m sure people are going to talk about how we beat them the two times we went to their place, but this is a playoff game,” Henry said this week. “It’s totally different. I’ve got a lot of respect for them because they know how to do it in the playoffs. We still don’t know how to do it in the playoffs.”

And there’s the rub. The Red Bulls and “playoff success” have generally been oil and water through the years. (If you’re into signs and such, the only time New York did reach deep into the MLS playoffs, its path sped through Houston; a shocking 3-0 New York victory at the Dynamo’s old home on the University of Houston campus propelled the Red Bulls into a 2008 MLS Cup appearance.)

But Houston knows how to get it done in the post-season. It’s been that way since the team moved from San Jose back in 2006 – and promptly won MLS Cup in its first two seasons in Texas.

Under Houston manager Dominic Kinnear, the club is 14-7-3 in the post-season since moving to Houston. (Two of those losses were to David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane in the last two MLS Cup finals, with both matches happening inside the LA Galaxy’s home ground.)

Red Bulls manager Mike Petke, by contrast, will stand on the sidelines as head coach for his first MLS playoff contest.

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s MLS playoffs picks and predictions)

Further, Houston is 9-1 in playoff games at home since moving to Texas. If Houston can keep that party going, they could seize quick control of this total goals series, sending it back to Red Bull Arena with all the pressure on a team with no history of playoff success.

That doesn’t mean New York’s players don’t have a bunch of useful big game experience. Thierry Henry (10 goals, 9 assists for RBNY this year) helped France win a World Cup and a European Championship, never mind all those huge matches at old Highbury with Arsenal. Tim Cahill (11 goals) has played in a World Cup, never mind a lot of critical matches at Goodison Park with Everton.

Big center back Jamison Olave started for Real Salt Lake back in 2009, helping his team upset Beckham and the Galaxy to claim the league crown.

Plus, New York is rested, having all week to train while Houston dealt with that mid-week elimination match. While Houston had a relatively easy time with Montreal (a team that was faded and broken and put up little resistance, if we’re honest), the Dynamo also saw its manager “eliminated” from this first leg.

(MORE: MLS suspends Kinnear from playoff match)

Major League Soccer suspended Kinnear for leaving his technical area during the match.

While Houston made easy work of Montreal, important midfielders Brad Davis and Ricardo Clark, both in their early 30s, went deep into the match. Davis came off after 83 minutes; Clark played all 90 minutes.

(MORE: Previewing Sporting KC at New England)

Supporters Shield still up for grabs as Atlanta, NYRB both win

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The New York Red Bulls are still in the mix, but Atlanta United has taken a one-point lead into the final matchday of the season as both teams won on Sunday.

Atlanta United topped Chicago 2-1 at Mercedes-Benz stadium. Franco Escobar opened it up early and an own-goal put them ahead for good, keeping pace with RBNY’s win over Philadelphia and leaving them a point ahead at the top of the table.

Escobar’s strike came just eight minutes in, after feeding Josef Martinez near the penalty spot who whiffed and fell down, he latched back onto the loose ball and decided to take it himself, curling one inside the far post. Chicago scored in the 24th minute to level the score, but Atlanta did not relent.

Just two minutes after Chicago’s equalizer, Atlanta was back on top. Chris McCann crossed it from the left edge, and Johan Kappelhof attempted to slide and block the cross at the near post, but instead he redirected the ball into the back of his own net.

New York, meanwhile, kept pace with a 1-0 victory at Philadelphia behind a penalty from Kaku, sending Andre Blake the wrong way. The spot-kick was given on a VAR check that determined Alejandro Bedoya handled the ball.

On the final day of the season, the Red Bulls will host Orlando City, while Atlanta is on the road at Toronto. Atlanta can secure the Supporters’ Shield with a win, but New York can jump them with a win and an Atlanta draw or loss. Should Atlanta lose by one goal and the Red Bulls draw, the teams would be level on both points and goal differential, meaning the significant Atlanta lead on goals for would give them the advantage.

Rooney scores brace, DC United completes improbable playoff push

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They’ve done it. They’ve really done it.

D.C. United, with just two league wins through the first 19 games of the MLS season, has completed an improbable playoff bid by securing an Eastern Conference berth in the postseason with a 3-1 win over NYCFC on the penultimate matchday of the season.

Wayne Rooney, the catalyst for this amazing turnaround, fittingly scored a brace, including the opener just eight minutes in on a fabulous run from Luciano Acosta down the end line.

Acosta was there to secure the win, doubling the lead in the 24th minute with a long-distance strike into the top-right corner.

Goalkeeper Bill Hamid was required to preserve the lead, getting down low to stop a tight-angle strike from David Villa towards the end of the first half. That would spur D.C. on, as they would seal the deal with a penalty from Rooney in the 74th minute, leaving NYCFC with just a consolation in the 78th minute when David Villa ended the bid for a clean sheet.

The victory caps an improbable second-half run for D.C. United, as they have won five in a row and 10 of their last 15. Rooney has been the leader, earning the role of captain despite just signing this summer, and scoring 12 goals in 19 MLS matches. With Columbus Crew drawing, D.C. jumped all the way up into fourth place with the win.

Serie A: Icardi wins Milan derby, Lazio up to fourth

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It was a huge day in Serie A, and Mauro Icardi took the headlines with his 92nd minute winner to give Inter Milan a 1-0 victory over rivals AC Milan.

Matias Vecino whipped in a brilliant cross from way out on the right edge, and Icardi was there at the back post to head past Gianluigi Donnarumma for the late victory. The goal capped off an otherwise wasteful match, as Icardi’s winner came on just the fourth shot on target by Inter of their 18 total efforts on net, while AC Milan managed just a single shot on target of their 15 tries. It pushes Inter past Lazio into third in the table, while AC Milan remains way down in 12th.

Meanwhile, Lazio scored a pair of late goals to earn all three points at Parma and jump to third – temporarily – in the Serie A table. Ciro Immobile was on hand to dispatch an 81st minute penalty confidently into the top-left corner and send Lazio on its way to a 2-0 victory. The spot-kick came after Valon Berisha was tackled late by Riccardo Gagliolo both going for a loose ball in the penalty area, a soft giveaway but a penalty nonetheless.

With time winding down, Joaquin Correa sealed it four minutes into stoppage time by wrong-footing Parma goalkeeper Luigi Sepe to finish a well executed counter-attack. The win for Lazio eventually left them in fourth after Inter’s win on 18 points, still seven behind leaders Juventus but only three back of Napoli in second.

Elsewhere, Atalanta clobbered Chievo Verona at Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi 5-1 to pull out of the relegation zone. The win is the first for Atalanta since the first match of the season – stopping a seven-match winless streak – and the goal explosion marks a massive turnaround for a club that had scored a measly two times over the last six games.

The hero was 30-year-old Slovenian international Josip Ilicic who bagged a hat-trick, marking his first three goals of the season. Defender Marten De Roon actually began the scoring in the 25th minute with a laser from outside the top of the box, while Ilicic began his day four minutes later when he delivered a fabulous left-footed curler.

His left foot did it again from outside the box in the 50th minute to put Atalanta 4-0 up, and just two minutes later he had his third, tapping in a Robin Gosens ball home after Chievo goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino embarrassingly failed to collect the cross.

A huge relegation six-pointer finished in a 3-3 draw that disappointingly lifted neither Empoli nor Frosinone out of the drop- zone. 33-year-old Frosinone captain Daniel Ciofani found a brace, but Turkish international Salih Ucan rocketed home a 79th minute volley to share the points.

Torino slumped to a 2-2 draw with 17th placed Bologna on Arturo Calabresi’s 77th minute equalizer, while Fiorentina also disappointed in a 1-1 draw with 14th placed Cagliari thanks to Leonardo Pavoletti’s 69th minute strike that left the two teams even.

Bundesliga: Thorgan Hazard goes off as Gladbach jumps to second

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While Eden Hazard has torn it up in the Premier League, his brother is quietly leading Borussia Monchengladbach to a stellar season.

Thorgan Hazard scored a goal and assisted two others as Gladbach clobbered Mainz 4-0, jumping to second in the Bundesliga table. Jonas Hofmann had the hat-trick, putting Gladbach in the lead 21 minutes in, but Hazard made things happen. He threaded the pass to Hofmann through the three-man defensive line for the game’s opener.

Hofmann put them 2-0 up on another Hazard assist minutes after halftime, and then he bagged his own on a pinpoint cross from Nico Elvedi that left Hazard all alone to roof it past a helpless Florian Müller. Hofmann pulled in his hat-trick by the 63rd minute to seal the game.

Thorgan Hazard has now been directly involved in 11 goals in nine games for Gladbach this season, the same amount as his brother Eden has for Chelsea so far.

Elsewhere, Hertha Berlin and Freiburg drew 1-1 on a pair of first-half goals. Ondrej Duda scored for Hertha just seven minutes into the match thanks to an absolutely delicious feed from Per Skjelbred on a through ball from just past the halfway line. That was it for Hertha though, as they struggled to create more good chances. Freiburg knotted it up just past the half-hour mark, as Robin Koch delivered a howitzer into the top corner, a truly fantastic goal.

Hertha failed to truly take advantage of the crowded top of the table, but the point pushed them up to sixth in the table, level on 15 points with RB Leipzig. Freiburg, meanwhile, moved to nine points, just three above the relegation zone.