HANOVER, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls are coming off the high of winning the Supporters’ Shield, currently boast an eight-game unbeaten streak and have defeated the Houston Dynamo in each of their three meetings this year by a combined scored of 9-1.
That still isn't stopping them from calling the Dynamo the favorites ahead of their weekend fixture.
The Red Bulls are set to travel to take on Houston in the first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series on Sunday (3:30 pm ET, NBC) after the Dynamo knocked off the Montreal Impact in a Knockout Round game on Thursday night. But New York made it crystal clear on Friday that they are not entering the match overly confident about their chances despite their previous successes, which include 4-1 and 3-0 wins at BBVA Compass Stadium in the last two months.
“Very dangerous, extremely dangerous,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke told reporters on Friday of the Dynamo. “They’re a playoff team, they’ve been to the MLS Cup final two years in a row, they have one of the best coaches in the history of this league, they have players that have both talent and work rate, and they showed it last night against Montreal.
“The score lines that we’ve had against them the last two games in Houston do not indicate at all the way the games went. It was very favorable to us and a bit lucky, so I believe we’re the underdog going into Houston this weekend.”
That sentiment appears to be shared by the Red Bulls players as well. No less than captain and star striker Thierry Henry also said Friday that New York are the underdogs heading into a Sunday matchup that will mark the third time the Red Bulls have faced the Dynamo in their last eight games.
“I’m sure people are going to talk about how we beat them the two times we went to their place, but this is a playoff game. It’s going to be totally different,” Henry told reporters. “I’ve got a lot of respect for them because they know how to do it in the playoffs. We still don’t know how to do it in the playoffs. … We still don’t know how to win a playoff tie, so for me they are the favorites.“
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The Dynamo have demonstrated over the past couple of years a propensity for turning it up a notch once the postseason rolls around. Dominic Kinnear’s men have advanced out of the Eastern Conference the last two years despite not being favored to do so and put up stiff tests against the two-time defending champion LA Galaxy, accomplishments that have earned the respect of the Red Bulls and many others throughout the league.
As much admiration as New York have for Houston and as clear as it is that they are not taking anything for granted, do not expect the Red Bulls to take a passive approach at the start of the upcoming first leg.
Yes, this might be Petke’s first postseason game and it is a two-legged series, but that won't keep the rookie head coach from trying to implement a game plan that would give his side a shot at beating the Dynamo for the fourth time this season.
“We never play for the draw and I’m not going to put in these guys heads to play for a draw,” said Petke. “Obviously, it’s a marathon not a sprint over two games. We’ll have to address that as the game goes on to see how the game is playing out and perhaps if getting out of there with a draw is, obviously, not a bad result at all.
“But if we can get a goal on the road, of course we want to do that.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.