The Houston Dynamo mounted a remarkable comeback in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal, but they still have a major problem -- they only managed a draw. For all the excitement in Houston and bewilderment in New York, the Red Bulls still got the away draw that is touted as necessary to win a two-legged tie.
Win at home, draw away. It's the tried and true formula. So why doesn't that feel good enough for the Red Bulls?
Part of it is their own history. The club has long been a laughingstock in MLS, always able to fall apart when on they found themselves on the verge of something great, and going from a dominant 2-0 up to a 2-2 draw in the first leg is a story told too often in New York. From the Jamison Olave red card to the stoppage time equalizer, it was all too familiar for the Red Bulls, but the Dynamo also play a part in this.
Dominic Kinnear's side has been to MLS Cup in each of the last two years and they weren't the top seed in either year. In fact, last year they had to go through the play-in match, just like they did this year. But the Dynamo always manage to be at their best in the playoffs and no matter how many ways teams try to kill them, they always seem to manage to make it to the final.
The Red Bulls choke. The Dynamo can't be killed. It has people believing that the first leg was foreboding of a second leg painted in orange. Was it?
1. Can NY cope without Jamison Olave? Ricardo Salazar was right to show Olave a red card for his scissor tackle from behind on Omar Cummings in the first leg. Now the Red Bulls will have to find a win without their best defender. Expect Markus Holgersson to slide inside with Brandon Barklage at right back in Olave's absence, which should make Will Bruin and Giles Barnes' mouths water. When Olave was at his best this season, he was the best defender in MLS and the New York defense may be in trouble without him, especially if Ricardo Clark is able to draw Holgersson and Ibrahim Sekagya out so Bruin and Barnes can run in behind them.
2. How much gas does Houston have in the tank? The Dynamo are set to play their sixth match in 14 days, the result of the CONCACAF Champions League, having to play the play-in match and the congested playoff schedule. Worse, they've had to make four long flights in that span. It's not really fair, but it's the lot Houston has drawn and it could leave them slow and sluggish on Wednesday. The Dynamo looked the young, rested, spry team at the end of the first leg, but they were also up a man and desperate for a goal. Can they find those legs again or will the glut of matches take their toll?
3. Which Will Bruin will show up? At this time last year, people were asking if Bruin would get a call-up to the United States national team. Then this season happened. He was slow, sloppy in front and that was just when healthy. In last week's play-in match, Bruin flashed his old form with two goals and some clinical play in front of net, but he reverted back to his poor 2013 form on Sunday against the Red Bulls. The Dynamo need goals from somewhere and their best bet is Bruin -- if he has it together, that is.
4. Who will take the bulk of possession? The Red Bulls showed in the first leg how good they can be on the counterattack and they played to it, conceding the ball for long stretches while they defended well and looked for chances to catch the Dynamo out. But now the tie heads to New York, where the Red Bulls figure to have the ball more and Houston will hope that they can strike on the counter. Both teams are most dangerous on the counterattack so who is going to throw that be the wayside, keep the ball and look to punish the opposition that way, threat of the counter be damned?
5. Can Mike Petke match wits with Dominic Kinnear? Mike Petke got his tactics right in the first leg, but got undone by Olave's red card, some poor luck and tired legs. It was a good showing from the rookie manager against one of the league's best managers, but Kinnear spent the last match suspended and watching from a box. Now he will be back on the sideline and Petke will have to match him yet again. We know Petke will out-dress Kinnear, but can he stand toe-to-toe with a MLS legend over two legs?
Match date/time: Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET
Venue: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, NJ
TV: Local only
Streaming: MLS Live