Houston-New York Man of the Match: Red Bulls’ forward Tim Cahill

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HOUSTON – It may not feel this way for New York, not after the way things finished Sunday at BBVA Compass Stadium, where the visitors squandered a 2-0 halftime lead in a series that was already there for the taking, but the Red Bulls remain in pretty good shape in this playoff series.

Granted, not as good as if they had won Sunday in the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal playoff opener. And not as good as if the team’s top defender, commanding center back Jamison Olave, wasn’t suspended for this week’s second leg back at Red Bull Arena. But, again, a 2-2 draw Sunday isn’t bad.

And they take this result back to Harrison, New Jersey, thanks in large part to Tim Cahill.

The Aussie international scored early and then played an important part in New York’s second goal, as Mike Petke’s team put Houston on notice quickly.

Cahill was a bother for the Houston back line immediately Sunday, getting into and winning his share of aerial challenges, a Cahill specialty, of course. In the 22nd minute, he drifted wisely between Houston center back Eric Brunner and outside back Corey Ashe until the moment of truth, when he found the right spot about six yards out to put his team ahead with a signature header goal. That was his ninth headed goal this year, more than most teams total header goals in 2013.

Cahill also sprang Eric Alexander on the break to help out on New York’s second goal.

Thierry Henry could surely have been Man of the Match on this one, as well. He was in on both New York goals, even if he didn’t show up on the score sheet on the Red Bulls’ second. On that one, it was Henry’s good work in possession near his own penalty area that launched that telling, 32nd minute counter strike, the one that ended with his team in a 2-0 lead.

Henry’s great footwork along the left and pinpoint centering pass put the ball on Cahill’s head for the visitor’s first goal Sunday.