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)

Mabil: Memorable celebration was to support mental health

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It turns out there was a bit more to say about the outstanding goal from Australia’s Awer Mabil at the Asian Cup, thanks to his celebration.

Mabil held his hand over his mouth and two fingers in front of his forehead after scoring the left-footed rip, and said his idea is to help spread the word that it’s okay to talk about mental health issues.

[ MORE: 2019 Asian Cup news ]

The two fingers represent peace to the mind, while Mabil says the covering of the mouth is a plea to speak freely. From the BBC:

“The reason [people] go quiet is mainly because they don’t know what the reaction is going to be from the mainstream society,” he said.

“A lot of people worry about what others think but I honestly think you should not be afraid of what others think. Those people who are afraid to open up, this is for them, for them to open up and make them feel this is okay.”

Mabil, 23, plays for Danish power Midtjylland, where has five goals and nine assists this season.

The BBC notes that Mabil was born at a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to Australia as a child as part of a resettlement program.

PSG signs American defender Alana Cook from Stanford

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain’s women’s team has signed American defender Alana Cook from Stanford University.

The 21-year-old Cook, who was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, has signed until June 2022. She was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year this season for her performances with Stanford and has represented the U.S. at Under-20 level.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

She played 93 games and scored five goals for Stanford.

PSG’s women’s team is second in the French first division and sits two points behind five-time European champion Lyon after 15 rounds.

Cook says “I really wanted to play in a European club and to play against the best teams in the world.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MLS notes: Zimmerman spurns Europe, Vazquez sold, DC youngster in remission

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Let’s sweep up some good, somewhat-expected, and wonderful news from around Major League Soccer.

DC United defender and Maryland product Chris Odoi-Atsem announced that he is in remission after a fight with Stage Two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

Odoi-Atsem was expected to undergo four months of chemotherapy, and the announcement comes just under three months into the journey.

At 23, Odoi-Atsem hopes to rejoin the team after his final round of chemo later this month. He was the 12th overall draft pick in 2017.

Another defender is extending his stay in Los Angeles.

USMNT center back Walker Zimmerman was a huge part of LAFC’s success as an expansion club following his arrival from FC Dallas, and was reportedly ready to test the waters of European soccer with interest from the Premier League, Ligue 1, and the Bundesliga.

But Bob Bradley pushed the right buttons and LAFC will have its 25-year-old mainstay back in the fold via a Targeted Allocation Money contract running through the 2022 season.

Finally, one of the key pieces to Toronto FC’s 2017 MLS Cup triumph is on his way out of Ontario.

Victor Vazquez is going to be sold to an unnamed Qatari club, pending a physical according to TSN’s Kristian Jack.

The 32-year-old scored posted 18 goals and 15 primary assists for TFC.

Transfer rumor roundup: Pellegrini to Man Utd? Dabbur wants Liverpool

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As Arsenal might be losing its head of recruitment, other Premier League movers and shakers are looking to bring big names to the Top Four fight.

If Northern Ireland is the hub for transfer movement, January is going to be a wild ride for one of the Premier League’s flagship clubs.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

The Belfast Telegraph is reporting that Manchester United is pursuing young Roma midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini in addition to the whispers linking the club to former Liverpool wizard Philippe Coutinho.

Pellegrini, 22, has two goals and six assists for Roma this season, having become a regular call-up for Italy. He reportedly has a $35 million release clause in his contract, though he is cup-tied in the Champions League (Roma next faces Porto).

His 2.6 key passes per game lead Roma and only AC Milan’s Suso and Atalanta’s Alejandro Gomez average more across Serie A. Pellegrini is second on Roma in crosses with 1.5.

How does $115 million sound for an elite 27-year-old defender? That’s what Napoli would reportedly accept from Real Madrid to bring Kalidou Koulibaly west to Spain.

The report, which also links Real with interest in Roma’s Kostas Manolas and Porto’s Eder Miliato, says United remains interested in the player despite the exit of admirer Jose Mourinho.

Anything more than $97 million, the fee Liverpool paid for Virgil Van Dijk, would break the world transfer record for a defender.

Meanwhile, Israeli striker Munas Dabbur is angling to bring his 20-goal season to Anfield.

Reports that Dabbur has turned down a move to Valencia in the hopes of joining Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino at Liverpool.

The Red Bull Salzburg striker has scored half of his 20 goals in the Champions League and Europa League, and has 11 Israel caps.

The cost for Dabbur is said to be $28 million, but is there any guarantee Dabbur can produce at a level that would demand playing time. Divock Origi has three goals in six matches and can hardly get time for the Reds, and Daniel Sturridge has only found 576 minutes in the first half of the season.