HOUSTON – Judging from the somber mood inside the New York Red Bulls’ locker room on Sunday afternoon, it was hard to tell they were still the team in the more favorable position.
The Houston Dynamo may have the edge in the momentum department after they rallied to draw against a 10-man Red Bulls side in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinals series on Sunday. But the entertaining 2-2 tie at BBVA Compass Stadium is still a respectable result for the Red Bulls, regardless of the fact that they let a two-goal lead slip away, because they will host the decisive second leg at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday (8 pm ET).
New York are 11-2-4 at home this year, tied for the third best regular-season home mark in the league, and are 6-0-4 all-time at home against Houston, including the teams' playoff meeting in 2008. The Dynamo are 0-4-1 at Red Bull Arena and have not scored there in 310 minutes, dating back to a Cam Weaver goal in a 1-1 draw in 2011.
“We have to stay positive, because we are in a favorable position. It’s not like it’s the end of the world,” said midfielder Dax McCarty after Sunday’s draw, the third match New York has played in Houston since Sept. 8. “I feel like we’ve been in Houston for the past couple of months, so now we finally get to go back home and have them on our home field, and obviously we’re going to be better on our home field."
“If you come here and get a draw, it’s not the worst result," midfielder Lloyd Sam said. "We’re strong at home. [But] the result isn’t going to take care of itself. We’re going to have to do what we do at home, as we’ve been doing.”
Playing at home may not be a guarantee for the Red Bulls, but it should give them a needed boost as they try and bounce back from the demoralizing draw. Not only will their fans be in attendance to push them on as they did in last week's Supporters’ Shield-clinching win over Chicago, but the dimensions and quality of the field will play into New York’s possession-oriented style of play.
“I don’t really know how Houston’s field has gotten so bad, but it’s horrible,” said McCarty. “It’s hard to play soccer on that field. … It’s going to be nice to go back to a better field in front of our home fans.”
Sunday’s draw now leaves the Red Bulls in familiar territory. In 2012, New York picked up a respectable 1-1 draw on the road in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinals series against D.C. United before painfully losing 1-0 at home in the second leg at Red Bull Arena.
New York are hoping history doesn’t repeat itself.
“We’ve hopefully learned our mistake from last year, where we drew the game on the road in the first leg and we lost at home,” said McCarty. “That’s a horrible feeling; that’s a feeling that we can’t have again. We’re mature enough, we’re an experienced enough team to bounce back from conceding a late goal, and I think we’ll be all right for Wednesday.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.