The New York Red Bulls' playoff run started off like a dream, but almost became a nightmare. On the road in Houston, a counter-attacking clinic from New York enter halftime up 2-0—but an onslaught of what the team called "self-inflicted mistakes" saw Houston level the game late, sending the series back to Harrison with all to play for.

The first half saw New York at some of their best, as they've shown in both previous appearances in Houston this year. Despite having little time on the ball, the Red Bulls showed both clinical defending (Houston wouldn't get a shot on target) and counter-attacking skill. Thierry Henry put a gorgeous cross into the box that Tim Cahill easily headed in to open the scoring after 22 minutes. Cahill would spring Eric Alexander ten minutes later, and as with his one-on-one effort against Sean Johnson last weekend, Alexander would fool Tally Hall to give New York a potentially deadly two goal lead.

The Dynamo's reputation as a strong playoff team was not to be ignored, as they came out in the second half fighting for a way back in. All it took to let them back into the game was an individual mistake: a poor clearance from David Carney fell right to Ricardo Clark at the top of the box. Clark's shot took a small deflection off Jamison Olave, giving Luis Robles no chance at a save. Like that, it's 2-1.

If that wasn't enough to disrupt the Red Bulls' mentality, a straight red card to Olave 15 minutes later would. Olave went in for a strong, scissoring tackle on Omar Cummings right in front of referee Ricardo Salazar—who promptly reached into his pocket and sent Olave packing.

The last 25 minutes saw the Red Bulls trying desperately to hang on to the lead, if not the draw. The lead would vanish as stoppage time began, as Omar Cummings pounced on a spilled ball after a corner kick to bring the match to 2-2. The draw almost evaporated as well, as Ibrahim Sekagya looked to have fouled a Houston attacker in the box - but no penalty was awarded.

With the first leg effectively a wash (MLS Cup playoffs are determined with aggregate goals with no away-goals rule), the series will wrap in a decisive 90 minutes at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday night. Olave's automatic suspension is the big story, meaning Mike Petke will have to re-work his defensive line. (To put Olave's defensive work in context: RBNY gave up an average of 1.8 goals in regular season games where he didn't play, compared to 0.94 when he did.) Expect to see Holgersson back into the center with Barklage or Kimura in the right back spot.

And while the Red Bulls have been dominant at home this year with a 11-2-4 record, it's hard to not recall the last three playoff legs at Red Bull Arena. A 1 goal lead heading in to the second leg with San Jose in 2010 lead to a 3-1 pasting. A 1-0 loss in 2011 against LA brought on a memorable Rafa Marquez meltdown. And the less said about last year's debacle in the return leg against DC United, the better.

If New York can secure a win (a tied game will go to extra time and then penalties), they will face either Sporting Kansas City or New England in the Eastern Conference Finals, with the first leg coming Saturday on the road. New England leads the series 2-1, with the return leg also being played Wednesday night.



Mike Petke: "Overall, I thought we did tremendous to go up 2-0 on the road in the first half. I thought we gave them confidence obviously with the deflection goal, and a poor clearance on our part. The red card killed us. At the end of the day, those goals were our fault. Wasn't something created out of spectacular stuff, it was self-inflicted on us. But, rule of thumb is on the road, if you get a tie, you go to your place, it's pretty much 0-0, it's a good thing. But our guys are angry, at the way we allowed them back into the game. Come Wednesday? See character Wednesday."

Tim Cahill: "Good game, I enjoyed it. I think in the end a draw is a bit disappointing, but we have one more game to go. This is playoff football; we’re ready for it and there is nothing to fear. The whole game, we felt comfortable - just a few errors, and we draw 2-2. I don’t think we were fazed at all that whole game until we made a few mistakes but it happens. We’re a team, we stick together and then we go again."

Luis Robles: "Obviously we'd prefer to play the next leg with Olave, but we have depth on our team. We know the guys can step in there are going to be fine. So we just got to let this sink in for the next hour and then forget it."