In the second leg of their Easter Conference semifinal against the Houston Dynamo, the New York Red Bulls will be without starting center-back Jamison Olave, who picked up a straight red card for a nasty challenge in the first leg on Omar Cummings. Olave missed five games during the regular season; in those matches, New York had two draws and three losses.
To say Olave is pretty important for New York’s defense is an understatement. Look for manager Mike Petke to shift Markus Holgersson into the center of the defense as a replacement with Brandon Barklage filling in at right-back.
New York will need to stress the attack more in the second leg as well. Even though the Red Bulls did score two goals, they only had two shots on target and just three shots for the entire match. New York fans will have faith that their team can attack at home; this is the team that put up 32 goals at Red Bull Arena this season. It will be up to Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill to energize Red Bull Arena with an early goal to somehow seize the momentum back from this Houston team.
Houston was very unlucky to not have won the first leg as shouts for a penalty in 94th minute were ignored by referee Ricardo Salazar. It seemed to be a clear-cut penalty call as Ibrahim Sekagya hacked down Omar Cummings at the top of the 18-yard box and there was no contact with the ball by Sekagya, but Salazar saw nothing wrong with the challenge.
Nevertheless, Houston are in a wonderful position with the score tied going into the second leg, and will need to play just a little bit better than they did in the first leg. The suspension of Olave will be a huge advantage for Houston in the size department; Olave is the Red Bulls’ tallest field player.
This should open up more opportunities for Eric Brunner to get forward on set pieces, increasing his chances of scoring. Brunner had a golden chance in the 78th minute but put his header just wide of the far post, and this was without Olave on the field.
Houston will need to be careful with their attack though, especially if they fall behind early. During points of the first leg, New York was able to exploit Houston on the counterattack, New York’s second goal was scored as a direct result of this.
The Red Bulls will host the Dynamo in Leg 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, Nov 6. Kickoff is at 8:00 p.m. ET, and the match can be seen nationally on Univision Deportes or online with MLS Live. Fans in the New York region can find the match on MSG, while fans in the Houston region can watch it on CSN Houston.
This is a two-game aggregate goal series; away goals are not used for the tiebreaker. If the series score is tied after this 90 minutes, the game will proceed into two 15-minute extra time periods. If it is still tied, then the match will move forward to penalty kicks. After Leg 1, this series is tied 2-2.
Leg 2 Prediction: Houston Dynamo 2, New York Red Bulls 1
Red Bull Arena has not be kind to either of these teams. Houston has not scored a goal at the venue since April 2, 2011, while the New York Red Bulls have not won a playoff match there ever. This has been a season of firsts for New York, but that will not continue on Wednesday night. The loss of Olave on defense will be too much for New York to overcome and the Dynamo will advance to their third straight conference final.