The Dynamo head to Red Bull Arena on Saturday looking to evoke the spirit of last year’s dramatic playoff success for a match Brad Davis says is the biggest of the season.
Houston have never beaten New York at Red Bull Arena in the regular campaign but conjured a win last year when it mattered most, ousting Mike Petke’s side with a 2-1 victory in Harrison last November in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Following a 2-2 tie in the first leg at BBVA Compass Stadium, the Dynamo went behind midway through the first half before Davis equalized and Omar Cummings delivered an extra-time winner to stun the Supporters’ Shield holders.
The captain said he might try to inspire his teammates by reminding them of that gritty against-the-odds performance ahead of Saturday’s match (5 p.m. CT, NBCSN). “I know it’s still fresh in guys’ minds. When you go to a tough place like that and you win you usually don’t forget about it,” Davis told HoustonDynamo.com after training on Friday. A glance at the standings underlines the importance of the occasion to both teams. New York are in the fifth and final playoff spot, while with only five fixtures to play the Dynamo are desperate to gain ground on the teams above them.
“This is absolutely the biggest game,” said Davis. “This is a game right here that if we go and win it puts us in an excellent spot: we [would be] at 39 points, one behind Toronto and two behind New York, and we play midweek against Toronto. It’s a chance to really pick up points, and then they play each other [October 11]. This is without a doubt the biggest game. If we win we’ve got a real good chance. If we lose, very difficult chance to get in. Even if we draw we’re still alive.”
New York’s home record is formidable but the Dynamo are confident after five wins and three draws in their past ten matches. “They’re a good team, going on the road in this league is always a difficult thing to do, but if you want to talk about memories and experience, go back to last year in the playoffs. We went there and we won. Nobody quite expected that, but it’s been done so why not be able to do that again?” said Davis.
Just a day after returning from the World Cup, the midfielder rescued a point for the Dynamo with a late penalty the last time the sides met, a 2-2 tie in Houston on July 4. Red Bulls center back Jamison Olave is suspended, as he was for last year’s semifinal second leg. Houston are waiting on the fitness of striker Will Bruin, who is back in training after missing a month with a foot sprain. Defender Corey Ashe is also listed as questionable on the injury report.
Absent for much of of last season through injury, Cummings etched himself into club folklore with the close-range 104th-minute winner at Red Bull Arena. This, of course, coming after scoring the injury-time equalizer in the first leg. The secret behind pulling off the win? “Just never say die, never underestimate yourself and the game’s not over till it’s over — you’ve got to play till the last whistle. Going down early then Brad scoring that goal definitely gave us momentum for the rest of the game,” he told HoustonDynamo.com.
Capping a month in which he started four times and provided two assists, the 32-year-old Jamaican found the net last weekend for the first time since opening day and is now looking to add to his tally. “Once you get on that scoresheet you feel a little bit more relaxed in front of goal and that extra composure can make a difference,” he said.
Houston beat the Chicago Fire 2-0 last Sunday. Later in the day the Red Bulls were crushed 4-0 by the Los Angeles Galaxy. Cummings expects them to be aggressive early as they look to atone for that defeat. “You expect them to come out wanting to win and trying to get you from the first whistle so we have to be sharp - especially in the first 15-20 minutes I think we have to be extra sharp,” he said.
Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear believes his players must be ambitious given the need for three points, but they have to be wary of being caught on the break. “I think we have to play; they have a good team and it’s not just Thierry Henry, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Tim Cahill, they have Lloyd Sam, a good player — so is Eric Alexander. I think if you sit back and wait and soak up pressure you’re asking for trouble,” he told HoustonDynamo.com.
Kinnear and the Dynamo were boosted on Thursday night as the Fire claimed an unlikely point against the Philadelphia Union. The result means that Houston will leapfrog Philadelphia with a win on Saturday.
Currently seventh, one place above Houston, the Union took an 88th minute lead at PPL Park. Victory would have given them a five-point cushion over the Dynamo but Robert Earnshaw profited from a goalkeeping error to grab an injury-time leveler for the visitors. “I don’t think anybody expected that — the only person who maybe expected it was Robert Earnshaw, he was the one that pounced on it and was ready for it. This last month, 20-plus days, there’s going to be a lot of drama, swings in momentum, some mistakes — can you capitalize on them? And on the other side, not make them?” said Kinnear.
Regardless of how the team’s fortunes may swing on Saturday and in subsequent matches, Davis wants the Dynamo to show the consistent determination and resilience that have traditionally served them so well at this time of year.
“That’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to get ourselves into the playoffs and usually make good runs in the playoffs: because this group is very stingy, willing to do the dirty work, things that aren’t always fun,” he said.
“It’s going to be an unbelievably tough match but it is what it is — guys know what it takes to win, we know what we have to do now, it’s just a matter of going out and putting it together and doing it.”