HOUSTON – Jámison Olave has set the standard for the New York Red Bulls back line this season.
Come Wednesday night, however, he will be a spectator after a red card for a tackle on Omar Cummings on Sunday ruled him out of his club’s Eastern Conference Semifinal second leg with the Houston Dynamo (8 pm ET, Univ. Deportes, TSN2 in Canada).
While he watches, the Dynamo – who are tied 2-2 with New York on aggregate – will be looking to exploit his absence as one of the league's best is forced to sit idly by as Houston fight for their playoff lives.
“He’s probably Defender of the Year,” said Dynamo forward Giles Barnes. “He’s quick, he’s strong and there’s not much he hasn’t got. I’m sure there’ll be a different look to New York’s backline. We have to go out and do what we’re capable of.”
Olave has been a rock in the back for New York this season. A slew of statistics show that New York is better with him in the back than without, none more important than their record, which is 15-6-6 with him as opposed to 2-2-3 without.
Furthermore, he has provided a stout standard as a player who can rule the final third and be superior in the air; Houston have struggled to break through against him and Red Bulls this season, scoring just three goals in four games.
With the talented Colombian on the sidelines, the Dynamo will look to take advantage.
Without Olave in the lineup, a number of tactical opportunities may crop up, particularly in terms of freeing up Houston's aerial game to allow the likes of Barnes, his likely strike partner Will Bruin and wide players Boniek Garcia and Brad Davis to operate.
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Still, as an experienced playoff team, Houston are not taking anything for granted.
“You can’t say just because he’s out this is going to work great for us,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear, who served a suspension during the first leg. “You can’t say, ‘Because this guy’s not playing, let’s do this.’ You still have to play the game.
“[Markus] Holgersson and [Ibrahim] Sekagya’s played together as well,” Kinnear said about the potential center-back pairing for New York. “You’ve just got to play the game. With big center backs who are strong, movement in and around the box is something you can always do better.”
While they are not overlooking Olave’s potential replacements, the club knows what a missing center back can mean. The Dynamo had to replace stalwart Jermaine Taylor before the playoffs due to a foot injury.
With first-hand experience of what losing a starting center back can mean, the Dynamo know that Olave’s absence changes the game and they are looking to make that turn in their favor.
“Olave’s one of the best defenders in the league so the fact he’s not going to be there is good for us,” Bruin said. “He’s kind of their rock. We’re going to focus on us and what we need to do to win the game.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.