HARRISON, N.J. – If there was any doubt that the Houston Dynamo still had their playoff magic, it was put to rest on Wednesday.
The Dynamo were thoroughly outplayed by the New York Red Bulls for much of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series second leg, but Houston still managed to pick up a 2-1 victory in extra time at Red Bull Arena. Houston advance to the Eastern Conference Championship by a 4-3 aggregate scoreline.
For the second straight match, Omar Cummings came off the bench to score the final goal for a Dynamo team that was outshot by a large margin (23-9) and benefited from several key interventions by goalkeeper Tally Hall. The victory was Houston’s first in five matches against New York this season.
The Red Bulls knocked on the door twice in the opening 20 minutes through starting forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, but he was unable to find the back of the net until his third opportunity came in the 23rd. Hall came out to intercept a Lloyd Sam cross but inexplicably spilled it, allowing Wright-Phillips to pounce on the loose ball and calmly slot it home to give New York a 3-2 aggregate lead.
New York continued to look the more dangerous team against a Dynamo side content to hit on the counter. But an awful giveaway from Ibrahim Sekagya allowed Brad Davis to pull Houston level in the 36th minute. Moments after appearing to tweak a leg muscle while blocking a cross at full stretch, Sekagya played an ill-advised pass across the top of the Red Bulls’ 18-yard box that an opportunistic Davis picked off before dribbling forward and slotting it home with ease.
The Red Bulls nearly took the lead again before halftime, but Hall atoned for his earlier blunder by making a jaw-dropping reaction save to stop a Thierry Henry shot that was redirected by Tim Cahill.
New York carved out another bevy of chances, but all were agonizingly denied by Hall and a bit of untimely misfortune, including a Henry header that smacked off the crossbar in the 65th minute and a superb bicycle kick in stoppage time from the Red Bulls captain that was deflected just wide of goal.
The failure to find the go-ahead goal ultimately proved costly to the Red Bulls, as Cummings scored in the 104th minute to give the Dynamo the victory as tired legs went wobbly in the final moments.
New York had a chance to respond in the second half of extra time, but substitute Peguy Luyindula skied a volley in from close range. Appeals for a penalty kick also went ignored as Henry was called for a foul on Bobby Boswell, and a late free kick from the Frenchman was hit too high in the 118th minute.
As the lowest surviving seed in the East, Houston know they will host the first leg of the conference championship series at on Saturday against the winner of the Kansas City-New England series.
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.