After sending the Montreal Impact packing on Halloween night, the Houston Dynamo had a bigger challenge to overcome in their quest to threepeat as Eastern Conference Champions and make it to their third consecutive MLS Cup title game.
They were playing the first leg of their 2013 MLS Eastern Conference semifinal series at BBVA Compass Stadium against a New York Red Bulls Supporter's Shield winning squad that had beaten them three times in the regular season by an combined 9-1 score. Two of those three wins this season came at BBVA Compass Stadium
And while the Men in Orange and their supporters could take comfort in the fact that the Dynamo are 9-1 all time in H-town during the MLS playoffs, their lone playoff loss was handed to them by guess who, the New York Red Bulls.
Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear left the technical area during that late game melee in the knockout round playoff win against Montreal to keep his players from getting any yellow or red cards that could impact (pun intended) their Eastern Conference semifinal series. He was assessed a bull feces one game suspension by the MLS Disciplinary Committee which didn't sit well with Dynamo fans.
Anything to get that dream NY-LA MLS Cup final huh, MLS?
That meant Kinnear was watching from the press box instead of the sidelines when the first leg of this Eastern Conference semifinal series against top seeded New York kicked off. While they didn't score their first goal seven seconds into the game like they did last month, the Red Bulls did strike first with Tim Cahill taking a Thierry Henry cross from the left side and burying the header past Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall in the 22nd minute.
The Red Bulls expanded their lead 10 minutes later on a counterattack sparked by Henry and Cahill which ended with Eric Alexander faking to his right, turning left past Boswell and then blasting his shot from 14 yards out just inside the near post for a 2-0 lead they took into half time.
The Dynamo dominated possession in the first half and limited the Red Bulls to only two shots on goal, but the only stat that counts is that 2-0 one on the scoreboard.
But as I said earlier, the MLS playoffs are Dynamo Time and they seem to step up their level of play at this time of year. The Dynamo began their comeback in the 51st minute when Markus Holgersson failed to clear a ball out of the Red Bulls box and it went straight to a waiting Ricardo Clark at the top of the penalty area. Clark chested down the early Christmas present and blasted a shot through traffic and past New York goalkeeper Luis Robles inside the near post to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Then came the game changing and probably series changing moment as Omar Cummings, who has been saddled with painful injuries for much of this 2013 MLS regular season coming into the game off the bench in the 62nd minute for striker Giles Barnes.
Cummings has endured three knee injuries, a groin injury, a hamstring injury and an
extensive rehab program that kept him in a reserve role, but it was he who would make the Red Bulls feel the pain of his presence in this first leg playoff match.
Three minutes later Cummings was taken down with a reckless scissor tackle from behind by Red Bulls center back Jamison Olave within referee Ricardo Salazar's line of sight that earned him a no doubt about it red card and an early trip to the locker room.
In addition to Olave missing Wednesday's return leg, the red card forced the Red Bulls to play the rest of the match with 10 men, and the Dynamo have a season long habit of scoring a lot of late second half goals.
La Naranja are at just the right time regaining their reputation of being dangerous on set piece plays as the agonizing Eric Brunner near miss in the 78 minute was testament to.
Andrew Driver also narrowly missed an equalizing goal in the 81st minute as the Dynamo continued to put pressure on the Red Bulls.
The equalizing goal finally came in the 91st minute. Brad Davis delivered another one of his brilliant corner kicks that Bobby Boswell got his head on that a diving Robles couldn't control. Cummings tapped it inside the right post from point blank range past the helpless New York keeper to tie the game.
Two minutes later in stoppage time the Dynamo should have had a penalty shot awarded to win it when Omar Cummings was clearly clipped in the penalty box as he spun away from his defender in preparation to take a shot but Ricardo Salazar didn't see it that way. But the 2-2 comeback draw with the Red Bulls sent the BBVA Compass crowd home deliriously happy that the Men In Orange defended their home turf and are very much in this series.
The Dynamo now head to Red Bulls Arena Wednesday to play the second leg of this aggregate goal series. If the second game is tied after 90 minutes, two 15 minute halves will be played followed by penalty kicks to determine who goes on to face the winner of the Sporting KC- New England Revolution series in the Eastern Conference Finals.