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)

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.