I want to get this out of the way at the top:
There is no more Curse of Caricola. It died when Lloyd Sam bent in that third goal against Chicago two weekends ago, and died some more when Eric Alexander and Jonny Steele added the final two nails to the Fire's coffin.
That was it for the Curse. It didn't come back when Jamison Olave went "Kovalenko" on Omar Cummings, and it won't come back if the Red Bulls get hammered 4-0 in Wednesday's second leg (8 pm ET; Univision Deportes/RDS2).
It wasn't a postseason curse – it was a "no trophies" curse. And now that New York have the Supporters' Shield, we need to put all the Caricola talk to bed and focus on what's actually happened: A talented team lost a crucial piece, and a seasoned postseason team has picked up momentum.
Let's start there:
How will Boniek and Bruin combine?
It really feels like I've been neglecting to mention Brad Davis in these Dynamo-related sections, so let me just mention him quickly here: Davis is more important to the Dynamo these days for his ability to create tempo and rhythm, acting as an outlet in possession and facilitating transition but not often providing the final ball. His role has changed, as he's no longer really a chance creator.
That said, he can still kill you if you give him too much time, and he continues to be among the best MLS has on offer for set piece delivery. Don't be surprised if his left foot decides this series.
OK, back over to the other side of the field. Boniek Garcia is the real driver of the Houston attack, and all year the key has been to force him wide. New York attempted this on Sunday, but Boniek was still dangerous.
However, he might have been even more dangerous if he'd gone with the flow, actually let the Red Bulls push him wide and then taken left back David Carney 1-v-1.
The reasoning behind my thinking on this issue is twofold. First, Garcia has a clear advantage over Carney, which means Ibrahim Sekagya (99 percent sure to start as the left-central defender for New York) will have to be hyper-aware, and probably cheat out of his preferred lanes to come to the danger should Boniek win the 1-v-1 battle.
That will leave Will Bruin isolated on Markus Holgersson (99 percent sure to be Olave's replacement), or a retreating Dax McCarty. Bruin has substantial physical advantages against either (both?). It also means the foul-prone Sekagya is tasked with stopping Boniek in the box.
Red Bulls fans are squirming right now.
Second, New York are going to come out and play higher, which means the Dynamo will have opportunities to get direct all game long. It's not really how they play these days, but they have substantial speed advantages in three of the four flank battles, and at center forward.
Don't sleep on the idea of Garcia dribbling the ball inside, then hitting Kofi Sarkodie on the overlap. It's happened a lot this year, and New York has no one capable of staying with the Houston right back in a footrace.
Pragmatism wins the postseason, and few are as ruthlessly pragmatic as Dominic Kinnear.
Red Bulls pin Davis, create space for Luyindula
As I mentioned, Davis has really become the Houston metronome, even though he still (nominally) lines up on the left wing. He's masterful at ball circulation and big switches that don't necessarily lead to chances, but do lead to more ball possession and a tempo that his team favors.
New York's job is to get him out of that center-left channel and push him wider to the touchline. If they do that, then they can create space for their midfield to work, and the tempo they want to work in.
And their midfield badly needs space and a comfortable tempo. Peguy Luyindula, who was so influential against the Fire, had a nightmare in Sunday's first leg as the Dynamo figured out how to squeeze him. He completed just 16 of his 31 passes on the day, and his map looks like a cry for help:
Those aren't just a lot of turnovers: Those are a lot of turnovers in bad spots. And while Davis wasn't the most active in creating those directly, the fact that he was able to slide into the middle and play lanes allowed Rico Clark and Warren Creavalle to do some serious work making Luyindula's life hell. So New York need to get Davis out of there.
Here's what happens when the midfield is vacated and Luyindula is on the ball:
The telling part of that goal is just how furious Mike Magee is as soon as Carney gets the ball – he has an idea of what's about to happen. Patrick Nyarko either has to be pressing high to prevent the quick outlet, or slid over to the middle to make sure that Luyindula didn't get the ball with, oh, three or four acres of space around him.
Nyarko did neither. Luyindula got the first of his three assists on the day.
Now, there's no way the Dynamo are going to be that irresponsible defensively. But simple, confident ball movement can also do the trick, as it did on the first New York goal in Sunday's game. Luyindula split four defenders in his only memorable play of the afternoon, and four passes later Tally hall was picking the ball out of his own net.
Without Olave, even that may not be enough. But for the Red Bulls to have any shot at all, they'll need to control where on the field the game is played and the tempo at which it's played.
That will, at the very least, give them a shot at ending Houston's Eastern Conference stranglehold.