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 in this weekend's opening fixture.
The Red Bulls will take on Houston in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinals series on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC) after the Dynamo knocked off the Montreal Impact in a Knockout Round game on Thursday night. But New York players and coaches made it crystal clear on Friday that they are not entering the match overly confident despite their previous success against Houston, which includes 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," said Petke of two games in which the Dynamo did out-shoot New York. "It was very favorable to us and a bit lucky, so I believe we’re the underdog going into Houston this weekend.”
No less than captain and star striker Thierry Henry also labeled New York as 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, all in Houston.
“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.“
The Dynamo have demonstrated a propensity for turning their game up a notch once the postseason rolls around. Dominic Kinnear’s men have advanced out of the Eastern Conference in each of the last two years despite playing the decisive game of the Eastern Conference final on the road. Each time, they put up stiff tests against the two-time defending MLS Cup 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. This might be Petke’s first postseason game, and it is a two-leg series, but that will not keep Petke 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.