One week after defeating D.C. United at Red Bull Arena, the New York Red Bulls hit the road for a highly-anticipated affair against the Houston Dynamo. Playoff implications weigh heavily on this one, as has been and will remain the case for the rest of the season, as the Eastern Conference playoff picture continues to take form.
At No. 2 in the East, in a three-way tie that is, with the Montreal Impact and Sporting KC for first place, the Red Bulls will hope to gain three valuable points on the road in a place where they’ve failed to register a win since the Dynamo’s 2006 Major League Soccer inception.
Houston, on the other hand, will aim to improve on their own chances for playoff contention following Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to the Columbus Crew. A 37-point total keeps the Dynamo well within the hunt for a playoff spot, sitting at sixth place outside the bubble in a tie with the New England Revolution. When you get down to it, only five points separates the sixth-place Dynamo from the first place spot. It goes without saying that they’ll be anxious to pad the point total Sunday against the Red Bulls.
“We expect them to be a tough team to play against there, especially at home,” said midfielder Eric Alexander. “Especially expect them to come out flying, and it should be a good game.”
In this season’s previous match between the two sides, the Red Bulls took the better of the series with a 2-0 win on June 30 at Red Bull Arena. Despite struggles on the road at Houston, the Red Bulls have certainly played better all-time against Houston at home, going 6-0-3. For good or bad, the remaining two matches against Houston take place on the road, starting with Sunday’s 5 PM fixture and ending on Oct. 20.
“At certain times in the season away from home we have not been that great and it’s something we’ve been trying to address,” midfielder Lloyd Sam said, who contributed a goal in Saturday’s win over D.C. “So hopefully, we’ve been working all week on how we’re going to play, so maybe that’s going to be a difference this week.”
The Red Bulls enter Sunday’s clash fresh off a win at home, but looking to improve on the regular season’s 4-7-3 record on the road. That’s not something that has gone unnoticed by Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke.
“It’s up to us to figure out how we’re going to approach this game, which we’ve been working on all week, and managing the game. Especially on the road,” Petke said. “The first thing that you bring is effort, the second thing you have to bring is understanding that we are on the road. It’s a day game in Houston. Where do we want to set our line of pressure? How do we want to approach this game? And that’s what we’ve been working on all week.”
New York enters the match with an array of injuries along the back line, made no easier with a suspension to centerback Ibrahim Sekagya following his straight red card against D.C. United. We touched upon that and more in this week’s What to Watch For.
Nevertheless, Petke’s versatility in using his depth has been battle tested throughout the season a number of times already. Sunday’s match will be no different.
“If we’re stretched out too much they’re going to pick us apart. If we set our line too high and are chasing balls over the top all day, it’s going to be a tiring, long day,” he said. “It’s about finding that balance between when we can get after them and when we have to be intelligent and set our lines somewhere and let them have the ball in the back line. And follow it when it comes in certain areas, jump on it and capitalize on it.”
The Red Bulls and Dynamo kick off Sunday at 5:00 PM on MSG. Watch all the action live, starting with the 4:30 PM pre-game show.
New York returns to Red Bull Arena on Saturday, September 14, when Toronto FC comes to town for a 7:00 PM kick off. Get your tickets now at Red Bulls Ticket Central, or call 877.RB.SOCCER.