After posting the best regular-season record in the league, the New York Red Bulls are hoping to make another big statement in the playoffs.
While they would appear to have a favorable matchup against Houston, the postseason continues to bring out the best in the Dynamo.
Enjoying an eight-game unbeaten streak, visiting New York goes for a fifth consecutive win over Houston in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinals series Sunday.
Captain Thierry Henry scored his 10th goal and added an assist as the Red Bulls beat Chicago 5-2 last Sunday to secure the first Supporters' Shield in franchise history.
"You score five goals in the last game of the season, it's going to give you a lot of confidence going into the playoffs," midfielder Dax McCarty said.
New York, which has outscored opponents 20-7 during its unbeaten stretch, now turns its attention to Houston. The Red Bulls have taken four straight from the Dynamo by a combined 11-1 margin after winning the three matchups this season.
New York proved especially dominant in both games at BBVA Compass Stadium, winning 4-1 on Sept. 8 and 3-0 on Oct. 20.
"I'm sure people are going to talk about how we beat them the two times we went to their place, but this is a playoff game. It's going to be totally different," Henry told the Red Bulls' official website. "I've got a lot of respect for them because they know how to do it in the playoffs. We still don't know how to do it in the playoffs. ... so for me they are the favorites."
While New York figures to be well rested, the Dynamo face a quick turnaround after beating Montreal 3-0 in the East's knockout round Thursday. Will Bruin scored twice and Tally Hall made four saves to record his fourth postseason shutout.
"I try to prepare for every game as it is the MLS Cup final, so I feel like I've played 34 playoff games in the regular season," Hall said. "I don't know what the difference is in playoff time, but this team responds very well."
Coming off back-to-back MLS Cup appearances, Houston is hoping to make another run at its first title since winning championships in 2006 and '07.
"The one thing about this group, the attention to detail once the playoffs starts, it grows minute by minute and they prepare themselves to give themselves the best chance possible," coach Dominic Kinnear said.
While the Dynamo face a daunting task in slowing down a Red Bulls team that led MLS with 58 goals, they aren't lacking for confidence as Sunday's matchup approaches.
"New York's a great team, they won the Supporters' Shield for a reason, but at this point it's can we be the better team for 180 minutes?" defender Bobby Boswell said.
"We've got to make sure we lock it down, you can't give those guys a sniff because once they start scoring they're pretty dangerous. So it's going to take a full team effort and that's how these games are from this point on."
The clubs meet again in New York on Wednesday.
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