HOUSTON – The New York Red Bulls couldn't have drawn up the first half against the Houston Dynamo any better than it played out.
The second half, however, was a completely different story.
After jumping out to a dream 2-0 lead in the opening 45 minutes at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday, the Red Bulls were forced to settle for a bitter 2-2 draw with the Dynamo in the first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series.
A bevy of mistakes from the Red Bulls cost them in the second half, including a red card to Jamison Olave, and gave Houston newfound life in a series where New York were in full control up until halftime.
The result of those errors left the Red Bulls feeling they missed out on an opportunity to kill off the series early – and the worst part was that they had only themselves to blame.
“I thought we gave them confidence,” a clearly aggravated Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke told reporters. “Obviously, with the deflection goal, the poor clearance on our part. The red card killed us. Those goals are our fault. It wasn’t something created out of spectacular stuff. It was self-inflicted on us.
“The rule of thumb is on the road, if you get a tie and go home to your place and it’s pretty much 0-0, it’s a good thing. But our guys are angry at the way that we allowed them back in the game.”
The first of those mistakes was a poor clearance from left back David Carney in the 51st minute. After inexplicably letting a cross bounce in the penalty area, Carney scuffed the ball right into the path of Ricardo Clark. The Dynamo midfielder took full advantage, hitting a shot that New York goalkeeper Luis Robles said he could not save due to his view being obstructed by Olave.
“It changed the game,” midfielder Dax McCarty said of the play which cut New York's lead in half. “It’s a game-changer and that’s something that hopefully we can cut out in the future. If they don’t score that first goal, I think we’re comfortable the rest of the game. I think they’re not going to break us down, as we’ve proven the last couple of times that we’ve played them.
“I never felt like they were threatening and then you give them that first goal and they get comfortable, they get life, they get a little more belief and we’re pretty much on our heels the whole second half.”
The second game-altering mistake will be a major talking point for days to come. Olave was sent off with a straight red card in the 65th minute for a challenge from behind on substitute Omar Cummings, leaving the Red Bulls to play with 10 men against a Dynamo team that was reinvigorated and pushed on by their boisterous home crowd.
The Red Bulls eventually succumbed to the pressure of that numerical disadvantage on a 92nd-minute goal from Cummings after he beat Carney to a rebound, capping a dreadful second half for Petke’s side.
“Obviously the red card changes the game, but you give up a 90th-minute equalizer, it’s always going to hurt,” said McCarty. “We have to be better on set pieces. Obviously, that’s a lost mark. Like I said, they didn’t hurt us from the run of play. The only way they hurt us was from our own mistakes.
“We’ve been a team that’s very solid, we’ve been a team that doesn’t beat ourselves. And when we beat ourselves, that’s the only way we’re going to lose, so we need to clean it up.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.