Monday Postgame: Are the New York Red Bulls really Supporters' Shield contenders?

With handfuls of star players away on international duty, and the end of the regular season in sight, wins came at a premium in Week 28.

Seattle landed two precious Ws, taking sole possession of second place in the Western Conference and extending their win streak to four. (They’ve also won seven of their last eight – a practically DiMaggio-esque streak in the parity-laden ranks of MLS.)

Portland broke out of a three-game winless skid and stayed above the red line with a 4-0 romp past Toronto FC, and FC Dallas got three golazos, including two in the final five minutes of the game, to upend Vancouver 3-1. They’re two points out of the final playoff spot.

San Jose squeaked past Philadelphia 1-0 to keep their postseason hopes alive, while an undermanned LA Galaxy side fell to Colorado by the same score.

Montreal, New York, and Sporting Kansas City each locked down big victories to keep pace with one another atop the East standings – and put a little daylight between themselves and the five teams chasing the final two playoff berths behind them.

But while New York and Montreal each won big on the road, there was more to those results than meets the eye in the scorelines.

Montreal got a huge boost in the fifth minute of their 4-2 win over New England, when Revs goalkeeper Matt Reis was whistled for a penalty and controversially sent off after clipping Montreal forward Marco Di Vaio in the box. The play put the Revs down a man and down a goal with 85 minutes to play.

As for New York, they were feeling pretty rosy following their 4-1 dismantling of Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium. New York midfielder Jonny Steele, who contributed a goal and an assist to the effort, called it one of the team’s best performances on the road this year, and implied it could be the impetus to “push for the Supporters’ Shield.”

But was their optimistic take on the result justified?

Let’s take a look:

Spreading It Around

Considering the team’s 4-7-3 road record heading into the game, the first part of Steele’s comments is not a stretch, but did New York look really like a bona fide contender for the Supporters’ Shield?

They bounced back with a second-half blitz after giving up a quick equalizer following Eric Alexander’s 14th-minute opener.

Their finishing was excellent and they got key contributions from several players, including Steele, Alexander, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Lloyd Sam, and most importantly, Thierry Henry, who broke out of a recent dormant spell with a goal and an assist.

Red Bulls fans would like nothing more than to see Henry (right) heat up for the stretch run and postseason.

Papering over the Cracks

But before New York’s second-half surge, the Dynamo got behind the Red Bulls backline several times, creating quality chances with shocking ease.

In the sixth minute, Giles Barnes floated in a cross that found Cam Weaver for a free header between New York defenders Jámison Olave and Kosuke Kimura. The big Dynamo forward popped his attempt wide, but should have done better with it.

Twelve minutes later, New York failed to pressure Houston midfielder Alexander López, giving him time and space to chip a ball to Jason Johnson at the far post, where he beat Kimura and put a deft touch past Red Bulls 'keeper Luis Robles to tie the game.

Just five minutes after Johnson’s equalizer, Weaver got behind New York’s defense, with Markus Holgersson and Olave in disarray, and sent a cross onto the foot of Will Bruin. Bruin flubbed his chance badly, but he had the net at his mercy from point-blank range.

Finally, in the 28th minute, Kofi Sarkodie got past New York left back David Carney and pulled the ball back for Bruin, who advanced glaringly unchecked through the New York penalty area. Robles came up with a huge save on Bruin’s shot, but it was the fourth time in the first 30 minutes of the game that New York had been opened up.

If even one of Houston’s excellent first-half chances had gone in, chances are the postgame talk wouldn’t have been about New York’s Supporters’ Shield aspirations, but about their continued road woes.

Depleted Dynamo

The Red Bulls can take heart from the fact that they landed such a big road win without Designated Player Tim Cahill, who is sidelined with an ankle injury.

But the result came against a Houston side that was even more shorthanded than New York. The Dynamo were missing midfielders Brad Davis and Boniek García, defender Jermaine Taylor (all international duty), and winger Andrew Driver and defender Corey Ashe (injury). Center back Eric Brunner was also out hurt.

Way Forward

It was an encouraging and valuable win for New York, but one that should be kept in perspective as the team faces the final six games of the season – five of which are against playoff contenders.

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