By DAN KARELL
Even without head coach Dominic Kinnear on the sidelines, the Houston Dynamo showed why they’re such a threat in the playoffs.
Despite trailing by two goals to the New York Red Bulls after 31 minutes of the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Dynamo battled back in the second half to level the scoreline deep into stoppage time, earning a 2-2 draw.
The Dynamo spent the majority of the second half with a man advantage, as Red Bulls defender Jamison Olave was shown a straight red card for a reckless tackle.
“I thought we did tremendous to go up 2-0 on the road in the first half,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke told reporters following the game. “I thought we gave them confidence (in the second half) with the deflection goal, it was a poor clearance on our part. The red card killed us. At the end of the day, those goals were our fault. It wasn’t something created out of (the) spectacular, it was self-inflicted on us.”
Just as he did on Oct. 20, Tim Cahill again opened the scoring on the day. In the 21st minute, Red Bulls left back David Carney played Thierry Henry down the left side. Henry did ever so well to let the ball come across his body before curling a cross onto the head of Cahill, who couldn’t miss from six yards out. It was Cahill’s 12th goal of the year and his 12th goal in the last 20 games.
“This is playoff football,” Cahill said after the final whistle. “We’re ready for it, there’s nothing to fear. The whole game we felt comfortable and just a few errors and you draw 2-2. I don’t think we were fazed at all the whole game until we made just a few mistakes and it happens.”
The Red Bulls seemed to take command of the series when they sprung on the counter attack in the 32nd minute. Dax McCarty found Cahill beyond the midfield line, where he evaded the tackle of Dynamo defender Eric Brunner and then poked a pass towards a streaking Eric Alexander down the right wing. Alexander approached goal, swiveled by Brunner once more, and then finished inside Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall’s near post.
Though they hadn’t been very dangerous in the first half, the Dynamo did have their best chance on goal in the 42nd minute, as Will Bruin was played into the box but put his shot over the bar.
In the second half, the Dynamo came out the more determined side and it showed on the score sheet. As the Dynamo attacked down the wings, a cross from captain Brad Davis went through the box, past the run of Bruin. Carney’s attempted clearance was a poor one and the ball fell right for Ricardo Clark, who controlled and fired past Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles to cut the deficit in half in the 51st minute.
“When Ricardo shot it, Olave was in a position where I just couldn’t see the ball,” Robles said following the match. “I think the ball ended up going through his legs and I just didn’t see the ball at all.”
Referee Ricardo Salazar made a potentially series changing decision when he sent off Olave for a reckless challenge on Dynamo substitute Omar Cummings in the 65th minute. The decision left the Red Bulls with 10 men, forcing head coach Mike Petke to bring on Brandon Barklage and shift Markus Holgersson into central defense.
With the man advantage the Dynamo again attacked wide, looking to catch the Red Bulls off guard. Brunner nearly made up for his earlier mistake when he sent a header toward goal, floating just wide of the post. Dynamo Designated Player Oscar Boniek Garcia had a chance to score in the final 10 minutes, but his strike on goal went straight at Robles.
In stoppage time, the Dynamo completed the comeback when Cummings tapped home from close range. Robles dove to his left to deny Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell a goal of his own but the rebound fell right to Cummings for an easy finish.
“We allowed them back in the game,” Petke said. “We were up 2-0, we were controlling the game, they had no opportunities, they had one opportunity in the first half, second half they get a deflection goal, they’re confident, they’re at home, and we allow (the second).”
The series now shifts to Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, as these two Eastern Conference sides meet for the fifth time this season in the second leg of the semifinal round of the MLS Cup playoffs.
Here are the game highlights: