Match Day Preview: Houston Dynamo vs New York Red Bulls

Omar Cummings scored in the 104th minute of second leg of MLS Cup Semifinals. Dynamo won 2-1 - Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Houston will battle the team they edged out of the 2013 MLS Cup Playoffs. Both teams are hoping to improve their standings.

On Wednesday, 6:30pm, at Red Bull Arena, the Houston Dynamo may still be trying to get the bad taste out of their mouths from Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia Union.

Houston is sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference after a disappointing result against the Union. Defender Kofi Sarkodie was ejected from the game after close to 80 minutes by a final controversial yellow card for time wasting on a throw in. The Dynamo managed to successfully defend their goal during those final ten minutes, playing a man down, to eke out a scoreless draw.

The Dynamo will not be the only team trying to clear their heads Wednesday. Winners of the 2013 Supporters Shield, the New York Red Bulls are in 8th place for the 2014 season, one place beneath Houston. They have a sagging record of only one win this season. They are 1-0-2 at Red Bull Arena so far. If this were not reason enough to look lively, there is always the fresh reminder of the 2013 MLS Cup Semifinals. The Houston Dynamo edged the Red Bulls out of their playoff aspirations last year, thanks largely to a late game strike by Omar Cummings.

New York’s Offensive Line in Question

The New York Red Bulls have a goal differential of -3 for the 2014 season. They have scored 8 goals this year, led by Peguy Luyindula and Thierry Henry with two goals apiece. Henry has 23 shots so far, compared with Barnes’ (Houston’s shot leader) 22. Henry netted 10 goals last year, and there is still plenty of time for him to make up the difference.

The big question going in to Wednesday’s game is can the combination of Luyindula and Henry penetrate Houston’s back line, which will be absent of Kofi Sarkodie.

Sarkodie’s Substitution

Kofi Sarkodie is the golden boy of accolades amongst the Houston Dynamo. On corner kicks, Kofi is Houston’s goal line man, positioned to stop any errant balls. In 2013, Sarkodie won acclaim for a fantastic play against D.C. United where he stopped two goals on the goal line (in a row) that had slipped past goalkeeper Tally Hall. For this heroic effort, he was awarded "Play of the Year" by the Dynamo and "Best Reaction" by ESPN Sports Science. He also captured "Dynamo Defender of the Year" and "Ironman of the Year" for most field minutes played.

Replacing "Mr. Sports Science", as he is known by the team, will not be easy. Head Coach Dominic Kinnear has several options. Although the Dynamo theoretically have a bevy of defenders to call upon, deciding which one is the best fit is another matter. Anthony Arena and Brian Ownby are on loan to the Pittsburgh River Hounds. Either may be recalled, but have not been yet. Rookie AJ Cochran filled in for David Horst while the latter was serving time for his own red card acquired during the Texas Derby against FC Dallas. He played well enough in that game to earn glowing words from Kinnear. Cochran has "a real nice left foot," the Head Coach commented. The 21 year old Cochran towers at a height of 6’3 and during the games broadcast Eddie Robinson described Cochran as a real big boy. Cochran’s 195 pound girth is beaten by only Tally Hall and David Horst. With such a build, Cochran’s true role may be at center back.

Besides the defensive options, Kinnear may choose to pull from the midfield region. Warren Creavalle is often plugged in wherever he is needed. Creavalle filled in for Ricardo Clark last year while the veteran recovered from an injury. His creativity and speed insured he started several games in 2013. Clark has also been used as a defender in a pinch, but Kinnear prefers to keep him in his role as midfielder.

Discipline will be key

As reported by Alicia Tolar, referees have been giving yellow and red cards at an alarmingly high rate in 2014. The Houston Dynamo have already racked up eight yellow cards and two red cards. Of those, half of the yellows and both reds were acquired by defenders. Professional referees are making a stand, to crack down on regulations. Many of these calls are based on the aggressive defending seen in the MLS. If the Houston Dynamo are to leave Red Bull Arena without receiving cards, they will have to maintain discipline and composure. Wednesday’s game will be officiated by Jair Marrufo, who has given two yellows and no reds this season.

Paging Captain Davis

After Brad Davis’ ankle sprain, Houston has been holding its breath waiting for his return. He has been listed as "questionable" during the last two games and has not rejoined his team since his injury during the Texas Derby. His leadership and undeniable skill at delivering set pieces will be crucial to putting down the opposition Henry may drum up.

It won’t be over after Houston leaves Red Bull Arena. Houston will play Portland Timbers at BBVA Compass Stadium Sunday, April 27, at 2:00pm. Following the game will be the 2nd annual Guns and Hoses match that pits the Houston Police Department Houston against the Fire Department. Proceeds for these tickets benefit the two organizations.

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