On Wednesday night, the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference semifinals were decided with the Houston Dynamo downing the New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City beating the New England Revolution.
Both home-and-away series came down to extra time. The Dynamo beat the Red Bulls 2-1 at Red Bull Arena to take the series on a 4-3 aggregate. Sporting beat the Revolution 3-1 at Sporting Park to also win their series 4-3 on aggregate.
Here are five things we learned.
It’s not often that a team must rely on its center-back to provide the goal-scoring punch, but for it to happen two games in a row is simply amazing.
In the first leg of the series, with Sporting KC down 2-0 in the 69th minute and looking to be heading back to Kansas City with a mountain to climb, Collin came to the rescue, knocking in this second-half goal.
Then on Wednesday night, with Sporting still trailing the series 2-1 in the second leg, Collin again sparked Kansas City’s attack, knotting the series at two goals apiece with his tally in the 41st minute.
Omar Cummings was an unlikely hero for the Houston Dynamo over the past week, but he answered the call in both legs of their series with the New York Red Bulls.
In the first match of the series, coming into the match as a second-half substitute, Cummings scored a little tap-in in the 92nd minute to level the game at 2-2 as the two teams headed back to New York.
Then, in the second leg, replicating his heroics and again coming into the match as a second-half substitute, Cummings scored in the 104th minute in extra time to nudge the Dynamo ahead and ultimately win the series.
What makes these big-time goals even more amazing is that coming into the series with New York, Cummings had zero goals and only one start for the Dynamo all season long.
For the last two seasons, and now perhaps headed there again, the Houston Dynamo have won the Eastern Conference and played for the MLS Cup. What makes their runs over the past two seasons even more impressive is that they have done it while squeaking into the playoffs and needing to win the play-in game just to be there.
In 2012, the Dynamo beat the No. 4 seed in the play-in game, the No. 1-seeded Sporting KC and finally No. 2-seeded D.C. United.
This year, they beat the Montreal Impact in the play-in game and on Wednesday night, the No. 1 seed and Supporters’ Shield-winning New York Red Bulls.
Now, Sporting Kansas City awaits.
New York Red Bull fans were elated two weeks ago when, on the final day of the regular season, they thumped the Chicago Fire and won the Supporters’ Shield in front of their home fans.
The win ended 18 years of trophyless seasons for New York and was widely and deservedly celebrated.
However, one has to wonder how many people will remember that considering the Red Bulls crashed out of the playoffs, again.
A series of high-profile playoff losses in the past have had numerous scapegoats, from the weather, to Roy Miller, to the coaches, to Rafa Marquez. Those familiar scapegoats were not factors on Wednesday night, but one common denominator remains—Thierry Henry.
There is no question that Henry is world-class. Even on Wednesday, when he once again failed to score in a playoff game, his skill was evident. His first touch in the 74th minute on a long, flighted ball into the box was sublime, even if Henry did miss the ensuing shot. And his bicycle kick effort in the 90th minute had fans gasping at what might have been.
In the end, however, the only thing that matters is how many of those chances end up in the back of the net. For Henry, zero of his 10 shots over both legs of the Dynamo series went in. And in eight MLS playoff games over the course of his career, seven of them starts, Henry still only has one goal.
In the 23rd minute of the New York-Houston match on Wednesday, Dynamo keeper Tally Hall, who has been in the United States men’s national team pool multiple times over the past year, made, perhaps, the worst gaffe of his career. On what looked like a routine cross to be claimed, Hall spilled the ball right in front of his own net for the Red Bulls opening goal.
But Hall redeemed himself on two occasions later in the match to help the Dynamo to the win. In the 44th minute, Hall made a ridiculous one-handed save on a Tim Cahill flick and then did it again in the 77th minute to preserve the tie and force extra time.