The Soccer Desk

Houston Rockets Past Red Bulls to Conference Finals


The Houston Dynamo, who slipped into the playoffs on the last weekend of the season, who lost to the Red Bulls in all three matches against them this season in a combined 9-1 thrashing, came from behind for the second time against New York in their two-leg aggregate series to make their way to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in three years.

Just ten days had passed since the Red Bulls earned their first trophy in club history.  They ended the season at the top of the table, securing the Supporters’ Shield thanks to an eight-match unbeaten streak that included six victories to end the regular season.  Then ten days later, they ended the playoffs to a rousing chorus of New York boos and jeers and a parade of garbage fans pelted onto the field.

The Red Bulls did bring their end-of-the-season dominance into the playoffs.  However, it only lasted the first half of the first match against Houston.  The Dynamo came out at halftime of match one in Houston down two goals.  Houston’s Ricardo Clarke and Omar Cummings scored in the 51st and 91st minutes respectively to bring the series back to New York even.

The Red Bulls once again took the first lead Wednesday night, scoring in the 23rd minute when Bradley Wright-Phillips chipped in a rebound Houston keeper Tally Hall seemed to have possession of but fumbled.  It was a poor play by Hall who otherwise had a solid series.

New York's Bradley Wright-Phillips taps one home for an early lead.

New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips taps one home for an early lead.

Houston equalized in the 36th minute, capitalizing on a horrendous pass from Red Bull defender Ibrahim Sekagya that went right to the feet of Dynamo captain Brad Davis who had the penalty area to himself and used it to slam the ball past Red Bull keeper Luis Robles.

New York had a chance to retake the lead towards the end of the first half when New York’s Tim Cahill got the ball to Thierry Henry, who’s solid strike was beautifully denied by Tally Hall, making up for his earlier blunder.

Both teams emerged from halftime with the match and series even.  Fatigue, however, worked in New York’s favor as the game was Houston’s third in six days and only the Red Bulls second.  Houston, though, was in the same situation last year and rode through the Eastern Conference playoffs all the way to the MLS finals.

Houston leg-one hero Omar Cummings came in off the bench again in the second half to add some fresh legs to the wilting Dynamo.

The Red Bulls dominated the second half, forcing Hall to come up big at times.  But Hall and the Houston side fended off the attack and regular time came to an end.  One hundred and eighty minutes would not be enough to decide this series.  The game went into extra-time.

The Red Bulls were the odd-on favorites for the series.  On paper they were the better team.  For the most part, they were the better club on the pitch, as well.  There’s a reason why they play the games, as we witnessed Wednesday night at Red Bull Arena.  The team that should win, doesn’t always win.  Nor does the team that plays better.  The win simply goes to the team that scores the most goals.  Although as Houston demonstrated, sometimes it’s a matter of will.

As the first fifteen minute half of extra-time wound down, Houston’s Oscar Boniek Garcia found Kofi Sarkodie just outside the goal-line corner of the eighteen.  Sarkodie crossed the ball to Cam Weaver who headed it in front of the goal.  Omar Cummings, who said of his equalizer the match before, “That’s the kind of goal you just will in,” willed in another, somehow getting a foot on it, directing it towards the net.  By the time Red Bull keeper Luis Robles dove to the ball, it had barely trickled pass the line for the score.

Giles Barnes lifts Omar Cummings who carried Houston into the Conference Finals.

Giles Barnes lifts Omar Cummings who carried Houston into the Conference Finals.

The Red Bulls came out on the attack for the final fifteen minutes but Houston held strong.  The final whistle blew and two hundred and ten minutes from the start of the semi-final conference playoff, Houston edged New York four goals to three in the two-match series.

After the match, Houston defender Bobby Boswell praised off-the-bench hero Omar Cummings, “Credit to Omar for scoring two big goals.  Kind of comes out of nowhere from the beginning of the year to the playoffs. It’s a great time to start thriving.”

Jumping into the semi-finals straight out of the knock-out round gave Houston the need to look to their bench—as was evident from their lackluster offensive attack at Red Bull arena.  Dynamo boss Dominic Kinnear alluded to their reliance on the bench when mentioning Cummings performance, “We brought him here for a reason.  He’s definitely making me look good.”

Kinnear and his Dynamo will have more chances to continue looking good as they head back to Houston to host the first leg of the two-match aggregate Eastern Conference finals against Sporting Kansas City, who came from behind in their own series to defeat New England Wednesday night.  The grueling schedule will test both sides with fatigue continuing to play a factor as the Dynamo and Sporting will both be playing on only two days rest.

A Thrilling Victory for Houston, an Agonizing defeat for New York

A thrilling victory for Houston, an agonizing defeat for New York.

The series kicks off in Houston on Saturday, November 9th, at 2:30 pm ET on NBC.  Stay tuned to The Soccer Desk for full MLS playoff coverage.

(Photos courtesy of AP.)