The New York Red Bulls thought they had exorcised their demons by winning the Supporters' Shield, but that's not the case. Despite going ahead 2-0 in the first half, the Red Bulls couldn't hold off the Houston Dynamo in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal. They went down to 10 men and conceded twice after the break in a 2-2 draw that send the tie to the New York all level after it looked like the Red Bulls had it in the bag.
In the first half, it was all Red Bulls. They were organized at the back, deadly on the counterattack and clinical in front of net. For much of the first 45 minutes, they blew the Dynamo off the field and looked set to knock the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions from their perch.
Tim Cahill put the Red Bulls in front after 22 minutes when he drifted away from his marker and rose to head home Thierry Henry's cross. It was a wonderful piece of work from Henry to create space and deliver a great ball that Cahill was always going to finish.
It only took 10 more minutes for New York to double their lead and it came on a gorgeous counterattack. Henry started the play 25 yards from the Red Bulls' own goal, feeding Dax McCarty, who found a streaking Cahill. The Austrlian then slipped Eric Alexander in on the right and when he cut in to get a shot away, he had half the net to shoot at. A calm, composed finish later and the Red Bulls had to be thinking they were just about Eastern Conference final-bound.
Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, the match wasn't over at halftime. Six minutes after the break, a poor clearance was chested down by Ricardo Clark at the top of the box and rifled past Luis Robles to cut the Red Bulls' lead in half. All of a sudden the tide had turned.
Jamison Olave made things tougher on his own team in the 65th minute when he went in on a terrible scissor tackle from behind. The tackle didn't do much damage to Omar Cummings, but it was dangerous and Ricardo Salazar showed him red for it. Making matters worse, Cummings was 45 yards from goal along the sideline, where he couldn't do much, highlighted how silly the Olave's decision was.
The Dynamo needed to bring things level or the man advantage wouldn't mean much, though. To go to New York down a goal for the second leg would be a tall task, but when Eric Brunner and Andrew Driver missed golden opportunities, it looked like that's what would happen.
But when stoppage time came, the Dynamo found their goal. Brad Davis' corner kick found Bobby Boswell, whose header Robles could only get a finger to. That left a rebound for Cummings right on the goal line, which he jumped on to poke over the line and ignite BBVA Compass Stadium. The Dynamo had their equalizer and the comeback was complete.
New York still heads home for the second leg needing just a win, but they will have to do it without Olave and after being ahead 2-0, the draw has to feel insufficient. They blew it, bringing back their supporters' fears of a Red Bulls curse, while the Dynamo are alive, and so is their playoff magic.
Hall, Sarkodie, Boswell, Brunner, Ashe, García, Creavalle, Clark, Davis, Barnes, Bruin.
Goals: Clark 51'
New York Red Bulls
Robles, Holgersson, Sekagya, Olave, Carney, Alexander, McCarty, Luyindula, Steele, Cahill, Henry.
Goals: Cahill 22', Alexander 32'
Red cards: Olave 65'