Jamison Olave's suspension leaves giant hole, but New York Red Bulls have faith in replacements

HOUSTON – Heading into a do-or-die match on home turf, the New York Red Bulls have a massive hole to fill.

They will be without veteran center back Jámison Olave for the final leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday because of the red card that he received in the second half of Sunday’s wild 2-2 draw at BBVA Compass Stadium. Olave was sent off in the 65th minute for a slide tackle on Omar Cummings that seemed more reckless than malicious.

Olave’s absence not only leaves New York without one of their most influential players, but also the defensive anchor that brings an unmatched combination of speed, strength, and savvy to the squad. It also leaves the club hoping to snap an unflattering streak, as they are 0-3-2 in games Olave has missed this year.

Damning numbers aside, head coach Mike Petke and his players expressed plenty of confidence in the team’s ability to replace Olave in Wednesday night’s make-or-break match at Red Bull Arena (8 pm ET, Univision Deportes, RDS2 in Canada.

“It’s a loss, but we’ve got great players,” said midfielder Tim Cahill, who scored the opener and assisted on Eric Alexander’s second. “We’ve got great players, good depth in squad and we just have to get on with it. For us, this is football. I’m not too fazed about Wednesday because I know we’re going to give them a tough test at home and be ready to go again.”

Added Petke: “He’s been our starter all year, but we have guys that need to step up in a big way on Wednesday. Yeah, it’s a big loss, but we’ll deal with it.”

Petke is not one to reveal his hand before a game, but it is essentially a foregone conclusion that his two starting center backs in the decisive leg vs. the Dynamo will be Markus Holgersson and Ibrahim Sekagya.

Holgersson has been playing at right back in recent weeks, but Olave’s absence should see the Swede move in to his normal central spot, just as he did in Sunday’s second half. That move will leave right back open for one of Brandon Barklage or Kosuke Kimura to fill, but it allows New York to field two experienced players at center back.

“We’re looking forward for Wednesday,” said Holgersson before providing an example in which his partnership with Sekagya was impressive. “You saw against Seattle [in September’s 1-1 road draw] when me and Ibra played at center back, we did it really well. We hope to get back to that.”

As for where the Red Bulls stood on the matter of Olave’s ejection, it was unclear in the immediate aftermath on Sunday. Olave did not speak to the media, and the players who did followed Petke’s lead and were largely noncommittal on the topic.

One New York player did, however, take a clear stance on the foul.

“The [challenge that resulted in the] red card I think is unnecessary as well,” midfielder Dax McCarty said. “Clear red card.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.