The New York Red Bulls may be the Supporters’ Shield winners and riding high with a current eight-game unbeaten streak, but anything can happen come playoff time.
The Red Bulls will face off against the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday in the Eastern Conference semifinals. As with any postseason showdown, there are plenty of intriguing storylines to keep an eye on.
Let’s dig into a few.
New York’s Head-to-Head Dominance
New York ran rampant through much of the MLS this season—hence the Supporters’ Shield—but it was particularly strong against Houston.
The Red Bulls knocked off the Dynamo all three times they met by a combined score of 9-1. What’s more, two of those games took place in Houston. That’s the type of dominance that could come into play mentally for both squads if New York gets off to a quick start on Sunday afternoon.
It is worth noting that the Red Bulls also won in Houston in their lone postseason meeting there five years ago, but that won’t have as much of an impact as this season’s head-to-head matchups.
It will be important for Houston to get off to a quick start so potential self-doubt doesn’t creep into its players’ minds as the game wears on.
Will Bruin’s Postseason Goal Scoring
Houston had the tendency to go into scoring droughts this season—especially at home—but Will Bruin will look to continue his goal-scoring momentum and find the back of the net against New York.
Bruin scored twice when the Dynamo defeated the Montreal Impact in the knockout round. It was the second time in his career that he scored multiple times in a playoff game (he did so previously against the Chicago Fire).
Bruin has six goals in 11 career postseason matches and will look to add to that impressive total against the Red Bulls. If he can't, though, the Dynamo will have issues keeping up with New York.
Dynamo’s Makeshift Defense
Injuries are always a concern in the postseason and Houston will certainly feel their effects on the back end.
Jermaine Taylor is out for the remainder of the playoffs after fracturing his left foot, meaning Eric Brunner will be asked to play central defense. Fortunately for Houston fans, he did so in the last game against Montreal and the defense kept a clean sheet.
In an interview with MLSsoccer.com, teammate Bobby Boswell expressed his confidence in Brunner’s ability:
He knows what he's got to do, and as a unit we know what we have to do. I've played with him in CONCACAF games, Open Cup games, things like that, so it's not like this is going to be our first test.
Luis Robles’ Injury
Luis Robles’ injury is nowhere near as severe as Taylor’s, but when such an important player is anything but 100 percent, it is worth keeping an eye on.
Robles appeared in all 34 league matches as goalkeeper for New York, but suffered an injury to his left knee in the season’s final game. According to the MLSsoccer.com article above, the injury is not something particularly serious, but his lateral movement could be of concern.
If the Red Bulls do have to look elsewhere, they have Ryan Meara waiting in the wings. He is talented in his own right, but Robles is still one of the best in the league and critical to New York’s title hopes.