[MLS PLAYOFF PREVIEW]
Going into the second leg of a conference semifinal tied is a new experience for the two-time defending champion Houston Dynamo and bad news for
its opponents from New York.
Houston, which is 10-1-4 this season at Robertson Stadium, trailed by a goal after the first leg in both the 2006 and 2007 conference semifinals. The
response? It beat Chivas USA, 2-0, to win 3-2 on aggregate two years ago, and thrashed FC Dallas, 4-1, in overtime last year for a 4-2 series victory.
"I'm not saying it's OK to lose,
because you never want to do that, but the most important thing in the two-leg format is not to lose by two goals," says Coach Dominic Kinnear. "In 2006, we were down 2-0 in the second half, but
we knew if we got a goal we'd go back home in good shape, and we got one from Brian Ching
, and that gave us a big boost going into the home game." Brad Guzan
saved a late
Dwayne De Rosario
penalty kick that could have tied the game, yet still Kinnear and his team exuded confidence and duly got the win they needed in the second leg.
Last week at
the Meadowlands, Houston fell behind, 1-0, to a Juan Pablo Angel
goal in the 48th minute, and nearly went down two goals five minutes later but Richard Mulrooney
cleared away a
shot that had evaded keeper Pat Onstad
. The Red Bulls took another discouraging hit with five minutes left in regulation when Stuart Holden
set up Kei
for the equalizer.
"We stepped up to their physical play and we matched them," said Richards. "They're supposed to be one of the best teams in MLS, if not [the best team]. We
matched them. We almost won, five minutes left we gave up a goal. Hopefully, we can do the same at their home with a different end result."
A more objective viewpoint is the Red Bulls
played one of their best games in recent months and still couldn't win at home, and midfield catalyst De Rosario and Ching will almost certainly be sharper than they were in the first leg. New
York has won only once on the road this season, but all it needs to force penalties is a tie, which it has done in six away games.
The lineup tinkering and tweaking of Red Bulls coach
Juan Carlos Osorio
will doubtless present a different lineup than the one he used last week when he benched playmaker Jorge Rojas
in favor of Sinisa Ubiparipovic
, and started
at holding mid instead of Juan Pietravallo
The goalscoring guile of Angel, the pace of Richards, and the spunky goalkeeping of Danny Cepero
give New York a chance to pull a staggering upset, but all the personnel maneuvering and tactical acumen in the world can't mask the stark fact that Houston is a deeper, better, hungrier team that
ruthlessly throttles teams when it plays at home, especially in the playoffs. WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS, Game 2
HOUSTON vs. NEW YORK (1-1)
Sunday, 3 p.m. (TeleFutura)