E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Jozy Altidore walked into the New York Red Bulls locker room at halftime bruised and frustrated. He was getting beat up by the Houston Dynamo defense, not as bad as his older brother Janak used to on the soccer field, but pretty bad nonetheless.
Altidore, though, was beating himself up even worse for missing numerous scoring chances. Todd Dunivant tried to reassure the 17-year-old striker, telling him that he'll get a few more chances.
"I'll get one, I'll get one," was Altidore's response at halftime.
As it turned out, Altidore was right as he finally buried one of what seemed like a hundred scoring chances to lift the Red Bulls to a 1-0 win against Houston on Saturday night at Giants Stadium.
"He scored a goal and we won a game playing with 10 players," Red Bulls boss Bruce Arena said. "I think he won the battle today."
Altidore took a pass from Hunter Freeman, took a touch past Eddie Robinson and beat Pat Onstad into the upper corner in the 60th minute, scoring his second goal in as many games as the Red Bulls improved to 2-0-1 on the young season.
"Defenders are going to do that for 90 minutes. It's just that when you're tired, they're tired and you have to focus," Altidore said. "I could have done better, but I took my chance and it turned out for the best."
His goal came eight minutes after missing a sitter set up by Dave van den Bergh.
"I don't know what was going through my head," said Altidore, who left the game in the 74th minute after being kicked in the calf, according to Arena. "I'll be honest, I went down for the next three minutes and couldn't believe what I just did, but Bruce said 'stay in it' and that's what I did. Another chance came and I buried it."
Using his strength and size against Dynamo's physical backline, Altidore made a brilliant run, darting past Robinson's slide tackle and then took a touch inside of Kelly Gray. But his left-footed shot from the edge of the six-yard box sailed over the bar. Two minutes later, Altidore got on the end of a Freeman cross, but flicked his header wide of the net.
"Jozy's been on fire, he's doing everything right right now," Dunivant said. "He came in at halftime disappointed he hadn't already put one away. He kept saying to himself that he was going to get one. He's done incredible for us and has picked up the slack. It's nice to have a forward who can hold the ball and do all the other things too besides scoring."
The Red Bulls already considered facing the defending MLS Cup champions an early litmus test. What they didn't anticipate was playing a man down for the final 54 minutes after Clint Mathis was sent off by referee Baldomero Toledo on a questionable red card for a challenge on Ryan Cochrane.
"I think it was pretty obviously an overreaction by the referee, I think it was a yellow card at best," Claudio Reyna said. "Clint didn't leave his feet. He got him with the follow through but that happens so many times in a game ... it just shocked me."
Despite playing a man down, despite Mathis missing an early penalty kick, the Red Bulls stayed composed, limited Dynamo's chances and were opportunistic going forward.
"I wanted this kind of exercise for this team," Arena said. "You have to play in games like this. I told the team after the game, most teams lose this game and we won it."
The Red Bulls now have seven out of a possible nine points and three clean sheets to start the season. Can it be the much-maligned New York team is a title contender?
"I think we're building and getting better with each game," defender Carlos Mendes said. "That's a tough game to pull out, against Houston, the defending champions and playing down a man. I think we're confident and we have to keep it going."
Added Arena: "I'll be honest with you, we've only played three games in this league. There's 27 more games. We could lose 27 games in a row. I don't think we get too high or too low at this point in the season."
Dylan Butler is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.