It's been a year to forget for the Houston Dynamo where the New York Red Bulls are concerned.
The Gotham club dominated the season series, winning all three times, 9-1 on aggregate score. In the process they set an MLS mark for fastest goal – eight seconds by Tim Cahill in their last meeting on Oct. 20, and tallied four goals in their previous visit to Houston.
That track record represents some of the lowest points of the Dynamo season. And even though the second season, the playoffs, usually wash the slate clean, wounds that deep are hard to move past.
“New York’s a team that’s come in here twice this year and beat us and beaten us handily,” Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis told reporters on Friday. “It’s something we haven’t forgotten about. You talk about how the playoffs are a new opportunity; well, here it is for this as well.
"You’ve got to be smart about it, but we definitely know what they’ve come in here and done to us. And that’s definitely in the back of our heads.”
Winning at BBVA Compass Stadium is an impressive enough feat; doing it in the fashion that the New York did twice this season is a different story. Both times the Red Bulls controlled the game, dictating the way it was played, and outclassed the Dynamo in the finishing department. Nowhere was that more clear than the last game when New York needed only five chances to score three goals while Houston created a number of chances, 20 to be exact, and came away empty.
It was a match that left a mark.
“You can’t give those guys a sniff because once they start scoring it’s tough to stop them,” defender Bobby Boswell said. “They’re a good team, we respect the hell out of them, but I like to think no team’s going to come in here and beat us three times in a season.”
Houston have experience exorcising regular-season demons in the playoffs. They did in 2011, avenging a 3-0 regular-season loss to Sporting Kansas City by winning the Eastern Conference Championship in their building. On Thursday, Houston dispatched a Montreal Impact team that handed them their worst loss in franchise history, a 5-0 August decision at Stade Saputo, by thumping the Canadian club 3-0.
Now the Dynamo step up in class. This is not a grudge match – Houston will not be looking to kick out at New York nor are they seeking mortal revenge. Instead, they are looking to send a message, according to the players.
“There’s the regular season and then there’s the postseason,” said forward Will Bruin. “It doesn’t matter what you did in the regular season. You’re in the playoffs, and that’s all that matters.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.