A closer look at the Red Bulls’ historic upset


It has been two full days since the New York Red Bulls’ stunning 3-0 playoff upset of Houston, and while attention has already turned to Saturday’s Western Conference final showdown vs. Real Salt Lake, I wanted to take one last look back at a day that will go down in Red Bulls history:


As the echoes of beating bass drums could be heard outside the locker room at Robertson Stadium, many the New York Red Bulls walked around the make-shift visitor’s locker room slowly and achingly. You could see many of the team’s starters feeling the pain after giving their all for 90 minutes of selfless, gutsy and inspired soccer, but you could also see the weary smiles on their faces.

You could see them exchanging satisfied glances amongst themselves. They had just pulled off a stunning upset win against the Houston Dynamo, a series victory that energized a club and vindicated a coach. A triumph that reminded us why games are played and why fans love an underdog and why there is rarely a sure thing in the game of soccer.

While most pundits spent the week leading up to Sunday’s decisive game two between New York and the Houston Dynamo giving the Red Bulls no chance, the Red Bulls kept repeating one mantra. ‘If we play the same way and give the same effort we gave in game one, we can beat Houston’.

The refrain sounded good, but was it believable? Surely it would take more than just maximum effort and a good game-plan to beat a team as deep, as talented and as experienced as Houston, wouldn’t it? Head coach Juan Carlos Osorio spent every day after the team qualified for the playoffs, and learned it would face Houston, telling his team it could do what few thought it could.

The first thing Osorio had to do was figure out a lineup that could pull off the upset. With three key starters missing due to injury and suspension, and three high-profile mid-season signings playing too poorly to count on, Osorio looked at the remainder of his roster and started putting together a lineup he believed could beat the Dynamo.

It began with a back-four of Chris Leitch, Andrew Boyens, Diego Jimenez and Kevin Goldthwaite, the same back-line that posted a shutout in the Red Bulls’ 3-0 win against the Dynamo on Aug. 24. The midfield would be the hard part, what with Seth Stammler’s season-ending injury and the the poor form of Juan Pietravallo and Jorge Rojas.

Osorio turned to a seldom-used second-year player and a rookie who hadn’t played in months, but Osorio believed that Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Luke Sassano could form a central midfield capable of carrying out the game-plan. They didn’t have to be better than Houston’s dynamic tandem of Dwayne DeRosario and Ricardo Clark, but they had to do everything they could to make things difficult for the Dynamo duo.

“(Osorio) just told us, “Guys, I’m not gambling on you, I believe you can do the job’,” Sassano said. “Knowing a coach believes in you like that gives you confidence that you can go out there and play well.”

While Sassano and Ubiparipovic put in impressive performances, perhaps the most unsung hero of the game was John Wolyniec, who practically played as a central midfielder in the second half, running all over the field and providing vital defensive support as the Dynamo attacked the Red Bulls in waves. When the Dynamo inevitably tired, and the Red Bulls went for the killer blow, it was Wolyniec who summoned enough energy to race toward the front of goal, where he knew Richards would find him for the game-clinching third goal after Richards ripped apart Houston’s defense one final time with a jaw-dropping 65-yard dribble and pass. When Wolyniec followed up the goal with an attempt at Michael Jackson’s Thriller Dance, it was a move fans laughed at and teammates ate up as they all appreciated the inside joke.

After the match, Wolyniec was one of the walking wounded, feeling the aches from 90 minutes of relentless effort. Long criticized for his struggles to score, and for everything he wasn’t, Wolyniec took a deep breath and had a look of relief after putting forth a performance that so clearly illustrated what he can bring to a team.

“It’s hard right now because I’m pretty tired, but it’s a little overwhelming,” Wolyniec said, when asked to put the victory into perspective after all the struggles of the season and all the club’s years of futility.

“It’s a great feeling,” Wolyniec added. “We really battled so hard and put so much work in. Obviously it’s been a little bit of an up and down year, but to beat two-time defending champs on their own field, it’s a really good feeling.

“The greatest thing is we came in and guys are already talking about next week. We got great opportunities and hopefully we can put the same effort out there.”

And that comment showed you just what the series victory had done for a club that looked in danger of melting down just two weeks earlier. Rather than just basking in the glow of a victory for the ages, the Red Bulls were already looking forward to next week, the next challenge and the next chance to show die-hard fans and impartial observers alike why they just might be a team of destiny.

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57 Responses to A closer look at the Red Bulls’ historic upset

  1. Aguinaga says:


  2. LJ says:

    I could read past “As the echoes of beating bass drums could be heard outside the locker room at Robertson Stadium, many the New York Red Bulls walked around the make-shift visitor’s locker room slowly and achingly.”

    the combination of NYRB and Gladiator was too much. Congrats to them though.

  3. Louis says:

    I’m sorry but one good game does not forgive Wolyniec for a SCORELESS, crappy season

  4. luis says:

    WOW. Everyone is exited about NY win. Its not that historic. If you guys pass to the final that would be historic but some people are acting as if they want a world cup championship.

  5. jmac says:

    Lacking in this “look” at the historic upset:

    (1) The gifted PK call on Clark

    (2) Dynamo missing countless chances and

    (3) Cepero playing out of his mind

    (4) The incredibly poor field conditions (UH football

    Yes, the Red Bulls executed their game plan, but when a team that finished 6 places and 12 points behind the other, and that worse team had won only game on the road all season and the favorite had only lost one match at home, there was something else going on then the Red Bulls just outright playing the Dynamo. Just sayin’.

  6. kpugs says:

    LJ and Luis, congratulations, you know NOTHING AT ALL about the history of this club.

    Jmac, go ef yourself loser. 3-0. You can piss and moan all you want, go start your own blog if this one isn’t written to your standards. If you don’t understand what a hand ball is, or think missing chances somehow does not make a result valid, you don’t know what you’re talking about either.

    Unbelievable how the haters always pop up to whine and cry like little b!tches no matter what. The longtime fans of this club have a right to revel in this victory, and it is as historic as they come for anyone who knows the slightest bit about the club and its history.

    You guys are pathetic idiots.

  7. Peter says:

    I have to say in a league where no one team is completely dominant over any other,the term historic upset seems to be a bit of hyperbole. Did Watford just beat Manchester United 3-0 at Wembley for the FA Cup, I don’t think so.

  8. luis says:

    I totally agree with Peter.

    kpugs, There is nothing historic about the win. IF NY does beat RSL then I would totally agree with you that that is historic.

  9. doug says:

    ives–youre blowing up. you got a shout out from Fox Soccer Report last night. They were saying your article on the Dynamo was a must read.

    Dont forget us Jersey folk man, Mr Hollywood

  10. Tim F. says:

    Great victory by the Red Bulls.

    Hope they can refocus on Real Salt Lake quickly. Need to neutralize Morales and Movsisyan; make someone else beat you. Also, make life difficult for Beckerman in the midfield.

    Go Red Bulls go!!!

  11. Tom says:

    nice to know, per usual, kpugs is keeping it classy…

    NYRB won, end of story. Play it again 99 more times and they maybe win 2 or 3. Doesn’t matter though.

  12. Coach says:

    We’ve actually played Houston pretty tough the past two seasons. The surprise was not so much that we did it but how we did it: the performance of some unsung heroes and the fact that the coach made adjustments and stuck with them.

    There are some parallels with another team that plays in the swamp: mediocre regular season, embattled coach, underdogs, having to go on the road …

    Congrats on the FSC shout out Ives, doug you beat me to it!

  13. Louis says:

    Look I’m as much of a metro fan as anyone else, but have to agree with Peter, this “historic upset” is getting hyped up just a bit.

  14. jevanvoo says:

    best road trip I’ve ever taken (until SLC of course!) I love this team, and while luis is technically correct, we did make it to the second round in 2000, it’s been 8 long years and I WILL celebrate like my team just won a major championship, because in my heart they did :)

  15. Justin O says:

    An upset, but I wouldn’t overstate it.

    NY finished 12 points behind Houston in the standings (that’s the difference between first and second in many leagues) and just a couple months ago NY beat Houston 3-0. A Houston win was the most predictable outcome, but a NY win should never have totally shocked anyone.

  16. jmac says:

    hey kpugs, attaway to address the substance of my statements and resort to ad hominen attacks. you a big boy! yes, the red bulls executed their game plan, but they needed a lot more to happen for them to win the game and they got it!

    that was no more a handball than Greg Berhalter’s handball at Costa Rica in the closing moments of the ’02 WC qualifier. I think everyone on this board would agree that call was a sham.

  17. Mighty says:

    Dont care…. we beat Houston!!! So all the Dc Scums that are here… go cry back home… and all those that are fire fans… bounce… this is a Red bulls blog!!!

  18. Patrick says:

    So luis and LJ, what you are telling me is that RSL would be a better win than beat the two-time champions and a team that always gets hot at the end of the season. Plus, RSL beat a team a Chivas team that was not that great. Their record was just above .500, they were just alright

  19. Super Metro says:

    I can’t believe people’s excuses. We beat the Dynamo 3-0 at home already, it’s no fluke. Were we favorites coming into this game? no but to say the ref gave us this game it’s bull$hit; 3-0 it’s 3-0 anywhere in this world. 1st vs 8th seeded, deal with it! Remember that stupid rule about getting 5 points to advance to the next round and then a mini game? 2001,02? We never complained when LA tied and then we beat them soundly only to have to play a third game and a mini game to tose the series…

  20. MetroFlip73 says:

    If you look at Rico Clark’s face when the call was made, he yelled out “Unintentional.” The fans may call it a sham, but the player himself knew he touched the ball.

    That was the feed from the Fox station in H-town. Even Craig Waibel was on the broadcast.

  21. brian says:

    Ricardo Clark stopped a ball from being crossed into the penalty area with his hand. Where is the “gift” in that?

  22. Javier says:

    it’s all relative. for a team with practically zero history, this kind of win more than qualifies as “historic.”

    i also thought it was very well written. good job, Ives.

  23. Scott A says:

    Good article in the New York Times about RSL’s Andy Williams, for anyone interested

    link to nytimes.com

  24. kevin says:

    besides unintentional was another word that clearly displayed his guilt….fffffffffffuuuuuuuccccckkkkkkkkkk! and the long look up to god….

    for us folks who made the trip to houston,it was historic. if you hate thats ok. hate away…

    we will be cheering our boys on in the stands at rio tinto and you will be at yer keyboard hating like the bee-yotches you are…have fun hatin..

  25. lou says:

    I knew they could do this, and i agree completely with kpugs im tired of these babies whinning, i had to put up with shitty results for more than ten years now with this team, i should at least be allowed to revel in an amazing win.

  26. LA Metro says:

    I agree that the Dynamo missed a bunch of chances (just wasn’t their day) and Cepero played out of his mind but comparing the Berhalter handball to Clark’s is ridiculous. Clark’s arm was extended and blocked a cross which clearly gave his team an advantage. Berhalter probably did not touch the ball with his arm at all and certainly did not extend his arm.

  27. jmac says:

    I believe Gregg Berhalter stopped a cross with his hand in the box, as well.

  28. SonicDeathMonkey says:

    Luis and Jmac, don’t sweat Kpugs….he doesn’t get enough fiber in his diet… :) As for the game, it was historic in the sense that the Metro/Redbull franchise had only won one playoff series ever. Any win would have been historic.

  29. Peter says:

    I guess I see the historic part of the argument but the great upset part i don’t see. Every team in the league is inconsistent. Houston, the great unstoppable team the Red Bulls had no chance of beating, won 13 games this year, not even half of their games.

  30. Haig says:

    “(1) The gifted PK call on Clark”

    This whining is batsh!t crazy.

    Clark knocked a driven cross out of the air in the penalty area with his had. He was ten yards from Richards when the ball was struck, and his arm was stuck out in front of him.

    If that wasn’t a penalty, there is no such thing as a hand ball foul.

    It sucks to lose (we Metro supporters are very familiar with that feeling), but whining about the penalty is ridiculous.

    The rest of the points aren’t much better– the field? It’s your field. Missing easy chances? They’re your players. Cepero playing an amazing game? That’s what great goalkeepers do.

    Houston just flat out got dominated. Nobody, and I mean nobody, expected that result. I didn’t expect it, and I flew down to Houston to go see the game.

    But let me say this: hearing Houston fans totally unjustifiably moan about the game makes it that much sweeter. So keep crying, papi.

  31. eric says:

    Yup, Richards makes $33k. Give Jamaica’s Shawn Wright-Phillips a raise.

    This has been my best year ever for early season predictions (Crew and RSL as the teams on the rise, thank ya kindly), and I also said this a bunch in April: Houston’s lack of speed will be their undoing.

  32. Daniel F. says:

    Amazing when certain people are jealous that a side like NY goes into the playoffs when their clubs couldn’t knock us out down to the final match of the regular season.

    Also to down play this fantastic result against our side that did have a fantastic game plan and took them out. Great goal by Richards, yes Ricardo Clark did stick his hand out and handled the ball inside the area, penalty for NY & converted by Angel.

    All of you complaining that the ref gifted us this victory, all of you are on crack. That ref Baldomero Toledo has screwed this club as far back as he started reffing in this league. Don’t start giving excuses that you don’t know the real story.

    Deal with it cry babies. NY is on the move.

  33. Urena says:

    Who is this Cepero guy and why hasn’t he started all year?

  34. John says:

    Interesting to hear the reaction from some Houston fans about point differentials and deserved results. Here’s another perspective–at no point in the past 3 years was Houston the best team in the regular season. We’ve always known that the MLS Cup is about someone getting “hot” or a bit lucky (hot goal keeper or timely goal scorer–can someone say “Joe Cannon versus Dallas in 2005 and 2006″ or “Alecko Eskandarian having the best four consecutive games of his career”?)

    I don’t care what the result would have been out of 100 matches. The only question is what the result would be in 1 game on November 9, 2008 and we know that result now.

    As for the PK piece

    ….intent doesn’t matter, the ref is not required to be a mindreader here. There are plenty of precedents of referees calling a PK off a cross that goes off a defender’s arm in a playoff match.

    Houston’s got no room to complain or argue unfair. They’ve won a couple of MLS Cups where the SS or the team ahead of them in the West got hurt at the wrong time or faced a GK who stood on his head (Cannon 2 years against Dallas). They have won titles when the weren’t the best team in the league or their conference. They have won titles when better teams in the regular season got bad breaks of one sort or another. Well, in this game there were NO tactical surprises. It basically came down to RedBull’s ability to do what players were expected to do (especially central midfield) and Richards dominated in his role and Houston simply had no answer. Finally, Houston had TWO matches here, this wasn’t a situation of just one flukey day with bizarre calls or strange bounces or freakish player. Same RedBulls team both games, same tactics, but the young midfield did a better job getting service to Richards so he was able to abuse Barrett more obviously.

    When you’ve convinced yourself that you’re the best and you then lose fairly, live’s a bummer.

  35. Miguel says:

    The Houston whining bitches might be right. It was a gifted PK call! Gifted because refs would never call it in our favor when an opposing player purposely handled balls in their box. No such blatant pk calls ever went our way so this one was a gift.

  36. eric says:

    Houston spent too much energy fighting on the field amongst themselves and complaining to the refs. Not the stuff of champions.

    Houston fans, take it with the class that your team had come to represent, add more speed at the back and another forward, and we’ll see y’all next year.

  37. jmac says:

    It is absurd to say that Houston was dominated in the series. We had more quality scoring chances in the second game than the Red Bulls did, but we just didn’t convert them. Red Bulls used their speed to their advantage on the counter-attack and disrupted our possession game (w/ help from the shitty, Meadowlands-quality field)

    Yes, not scoring is our problem and we could use some more team speed.

    But in the end we have a longer winning tradition to smile upon. Our team strength will come through again next year.

    Notice how I didn’t use any profanity, classy Red Bulls fans?

    I will be rooting for RSL.

  38. forever orange says:

    ives, im a huge fan of your website and all good info you post. but who in the world is kpugs, all he does is call people idiots. dude needs to grow.

    btw, of course this is a huge upset for dynamo and co. but NY somehow someway was the better team on sunday. this is not historic, but emberassing to be a proud dynamo fan.

  39. Annoyingmous says:

    NJ absolutely deserved the win. They outplayed Houston at Houston — enough said. Houston had plenty of opportunities to score; they failed to do so. The PK was a call I’ve seen made in this league, and elsewhere, a zillion times. Houston deserved the loss; Jersey deserved the victory. End of story.

    On a completely separate note, Ives has now moved into Max Bretos territory when it comes to a soccer reporter throwing aside even the pretense of being a disinterested party, and instead publicly embracing their homerism.

  40. NONAME says:

    RSL fan calls it historic.

    I enjoy NYRB, and even attended the medowlands game when they played and beat RSL. I rooted for them against Houston, and am happy to see them play RSL this weekend.

    Congrats on the historic win.

  41. Mikemike says:


    4-1 is domination. Plain and simple. Both teams had to play on the same field. NY disrupted your “possession game.” When you let an opponent do that, you must not have much of a possession game to begin with.

    Your team had to win. When NY had to win against Chicago and failed, every NY fan agreed that they were dominated. I don’t know why you can’t admit that your team was creamed. After denial, comes acceptance.

    Have fun with your “winning tradition,” though. On Saturday, I will be watching a soccer game.


  42. Eugene says:

    Just hope they don’t get OVERconfident. Very big game coming up on Saturday and winning it means winning 2 straight on the road when they had previously won only one on the road all season.

    That said, the match-up against RSL is favorable. NY beat them at home and were leading the game in Salt Lake City before giving up the tying goal — in the same stadium and the first game in Rio Tinto.

    The strategy will have to be different but I hope the starting 11 will not be given how these guys fought for each other. They all deserve to start again — but JCO should look to his bench in case we’re not getting the momentum in midfield or not creating enough opportunities.

    The key to RSL is really shutting down Javier Morales and marking Yura Movsisyan out of the match. NY also needs to pay attention to Mathis, Johnson and Beckerman but those are secondary objectives. I feel more comfortable with the team’s ability to score on Rimando than I was with their ability to score on Onstad.

    Danny Cepero needs to have another HUGE game, but his first MLS clean sheet against Houston should build his confidence. If he and his defenders can pull out another clean sheet in SLC, that will really build momentum for the team.

  43. Eugene says:

    By the way, there has been a significant pick-up in fan activity for NY… I guess that’s what winning will do for a club, but people who I’ve never seen posting are coming out of the woodwork and talking about how they “love” the club!

  44. Eugene says:


    I don’t know what you’re arguing man, in the replay you can clearly see Clark’s arm recoil. You can also clearly see Clark mouth f@%k when it happens. And Toledo was standing very close to the play and didn’t hesitate. I know Kinnear is sore about the call, but I hardly think it was controversial.

    Houston also had an hour of gametime after the penalty (including the 6 minutes of extratime) to score a pair of goals and weren’t able to do it. Kinnear even commented after the match that had the game still been going on, he wasn’t sure they would have been able to score.

    No one is saying Houston is not a great team in MLS, but on this day you guys got beat. And Richards also did to Barrett exactly what he promised.

  45. I just think that the Red Bulls should fire Juancho.

    He obviously can not learn from his mistakes. He can’t make adjustments. He is terrible at motivating players. His tactics suck.

    Juancho should be fired.

    Sorry guys, I just have to remind some of you Red Bulls fans what you were saying all year. I talked to some Fire players last year and they were happy with Juancho. Most said he was a great coach.

    I think you finally have the manager that will bring some stability to that position.

  46. Eugene says:

    Look, it was an upset because NY were the distant longshots in the game. For those who have been watching NY-Houston games this season, it should have been less of a surprise since the same tactics had been used earlier with the same effect.

    It was historic for NY because they’ve only won a playoff series once before in club history.

    Perhaps it’s historic for MLS because NY is a cinderella team in this tournament, but I guess we’ll know that more definitively in coming years if this game is remembered or forgotten. If it was a flash in the pan, the game will be forgotten. If NY manages to beat RSL and advance, this run will likely be remembered just as LA’s road to the championship as the last playoff team is remembered.

  47. Manny F says:

    Houston fans have no right to bitch about anything. They were gifted 2 championships by the league if I am allowed to say that. That Houston team doesn’t belong there. You guys get a great team and in your first two years you get 2 MLS titles. Now you know what every new expansion team should have felt under normal circumstances.

    As for calls going one way or another. I believe that the ’00 Metro-Fire had 2 bogues calls in the last 10 minutes. One being the Valencia “offside” and then the Razov “goal.” But whatever. Calls are calls and we have to live with them.

    And that ’02 qualifier handball was a handball. There was no reason to have that hand out like that for Rico. He still blocked the pass with his hand. Either way, if Houston should have won that game, then they should have put in a couple of those low crossed balls in front of Cepero.

  48. Mastrino says:

    Good for the players………. but one winning big game don’t change that JC Osorio must go with his partners Venezuelans and Argentinian

  49. MasterShake says:

    NY beat the 2-time defending MLS Cup champions on their own turf. You can argue the PK all you want, but you cant argue Dane Richards ripping Houston apart..maybe the ref should have called Dane for running too long with the ball?? I mean what else are you going to complain about.

    NY 3 – 0 Houston. Deal with it or call the wahhhhmbulence.

  50. ag nigrin says:

    Thank you Ives… for me this was the best story I think you have ever written here on SBI. I was very moved by what you wrote and yes I am a Red Bulls fan but I still think it is a masterpiece. Gracias!

  51. Steponhens says:

    The game was more about what Houston did not do rather than what New York did. Houston missed several clear opportunities while New York scored on pretty much all of theirs. The first goal Wade Barrett fell asleep and did not react. The second goal Clark had his hand out while in the box, which everybody knows leaves the decision in the hands of the ref, which usually does not turn out well. The third goal was a great run, but Houston had pushed everyone forward and did not have proper cover, which under normal circumstances would not have happened.

    Congrats to NY but one lucky game does not make a season. Losing to RSL would make the win irrelevant. Poor roster management and a bad roster will doom the team and that is no different than a week ago.

  52. joe k says:

    all of these houston apologists are hilarious. it’s as if the red bulls were 2 for 2 on their chances and the dynamo were 0 for 20.

    juan pablo angel hit the post early in the first half, and sinisa struck an open shot right at onstad (his only save).

    it wasn’t a lucky win, you jackasses.

  53. Karl says:

    They seem to forget how good Cepero was in net. If it werent for him the Red Bulls would have lost and lost bad.

  54. Haig says:

    Last time I checked, the goalkeeper was part of the team.

    If it weren’t for Onstad making a few saves, Houston would have been destroyed even more completely.

    What this all seems to come down to is Houston fans saying “How DARE they outplay us. Don’t they know their place?”

  55. Binks says:

    Now this is the kind of writing I like to see from Ives. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. :)

    I’m going to take some stick for this but I’ll say it anyway. I’m thrilled with the victory but it was by no means an upset.

    Houston hasn’t been on par with the past two seasons and have shown some serious cracks in their play with a healthy side. If Metro makes the MLS Cup as the Western conference champions their achievement has already been discounted as the conference is totally subpar to that of the East.

    This new format is League endorsed cheating and is by no means the right way to showcase the league final. This will not prove as a new means of gaining interest from fans/supporters of the game in this country that look at our league with an already skeptical eye.

    Why not bring back the overtime shootout? While we’re at it, change the names of the final teams to Fusion and Mutiny as well. Please Don, create the MLS failure trifecta.

    If Red Bull was to win the cup in this manner it would cheapen the victory for me.

  56. Davey Gerrard says:

    I was hoping there wouldn’t be a picture so Liverpool wouldn’t see it. But I will accept thanks for the win.

  57. martha in miami says:

    You people are funny! Ives your writing does seem even better somehow, maybe its the topic, lol. As a Metro/ Fusion/Metro/Redbulls since day 1, feels like a WC win to me, says the Italian Gator Colombian fan, whom knows suffering, as well as, trophies!