Eric Christian Smith
While Sunday's 2-0 victory at home was a massive step in the right direction, this is far from over. Expect another postseason battle in Kansas City as both sides look to erase the past Wednesday night.
Well, they're halfway there now. The easy part was taken care of Sunday afternoon, when the Dynamo welcomed Sporting Kansas City into the first leg of their semifinal at BBVA Compass Stadium. Yes, the Dynamo won this leg 2-0, but there's still work to be done.
At 8 pm Central time on Wednesday night, the semifinal moves back to Kansas City's Livestrong Sporting Park, and you can rest assured that SKC will want to defend their home turf every bit as well as the Dynamo did. It's a notoriously hard place for a road team to play, but then again, history shows that Houston has often seemed to perform better there than most other road teams.
It's history here that both sides will be recalling - and for both teams, it's ambivalent at best. Certainly, Kansas City, who has talked of revenge almost ad nauseum to this point, will look to erase not only their deficit in this semifinal, but the ghosts of multiple playoff defeats at the hands of Houston - not only last year's Eastern Conference final, but also the one in 2007.
The Dynamo don't have nearly that kind of bad history to think about, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that some of the players feel that there's unfinished business at hand - a little less than eight weeks ago, an equalizer in the third minute of stoppage time meant that the Dynamo got only a single point out of Livestrong Sporting Park on a night when they probably felt that they deserved all three.
All in all, it makes for a compelling read. But keep this in mind: yes, there is a lot of history between the two teams, but it is all just that - history. Most of the history has no bearing on the second leg of this semifinal, so just file it away for now.
The only part of the history between the two teams that might possibly have any bearing on this match is the immediate history, from Sunday's 2-0 Dynamo victory. It was a physical match - as is often seen in the MLS playoffs. While in some cases, the referee allowed play to go on through some questionable non-calls, he also broke up the rhythm of play by virtue of even more questionable calls - most notably a yellow card given to Calen Carr for a foul on Kei Kamara that seemingly nobody but Kamara (and Edvin Jurisevic) felt was a foul.
Indeed, the style of play was such that Kansas City manager Peter Vermes felt the need to complain about physical play in his post match interviews, to the amusement and chagrin of most everyone in Houston (note to Vermes, when you have a team that plays fairly physically and features a number of players who love to go to ground, you don't complain about physical play).
Still, there was a marked difference between this Dynamo team and past ones - where teams in earlier years might have lost their cool and concentration, this one didn't (see also the Olimpia match at home for a similar type of match - that featured another highly questionable yellow to Calen Carr, as a matter of fact). Adam Moffat and Will Bruin instead let the scoreline do the talking, which is how the semifinal has gotten to the point it's at now.
While Sporting Kansas City will need two goals just to force extra time, it's not an impossible task - something that I'm sure Dom Kinnear remembers well, as the '04 Kansas City team did just that against San Jose in his first year as manager. For that reason, I'm not sure how much of a defensive mindset the Dynamo will utilize, if they do so at all.
With the exception of Jermaine Taylor, who is a game-time decision after leaving Sunday's match due to a knee injury, it's conceivable that no switches are made tactically by the Dynamo. While a two goal lead is immense, it is not always comfortable, and I'm sure the team would love nothing more than to add on to the aggregate early and put the match squarely out of reach.
Sporting Kansas City, on the other hand, seems to have no choice but to play aggressively, which could work either way. While it could possibly allow them to score early and gain a foothold to come back in, playing too aggressively leaves the door open for a counterattack, and could possibly result in a match that is even more physical than Sunday's, in which case cards and set pieces could play the decisive role in sending this semifinal one way or the other.
To make it even harder for Kansas City, however, they'll have to make do in midfield without injured midfielder Roger Espinoza, who has been ruled out. He played in Houston, but wasn't as effective as normal, eventually leaving for a substitute in the 77th minute. The cards are seemingly stacked against them, but nothing is ever certain in this sport (except for perhaps the highly opinionated outspokenness of Diego Maradona).
Make no mistake: the Dynamo are ahead, but this is not going to be easy. Expect a fight here, and be prepared for the battle à outrance that awaits tonight in Kansas City. With luck, the Dynamo will survive to play once more at BBVA Compass this Saturday against either the New York Red Bulls or D.C. United (their second leg starts an hour before ours, so we should know the opponent by the time our match finishes). It's time to feel that Orange Crush, guys. Let's do this.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY v HOUSTON DYNAMO
Wed., Nov. 7, Livestrong Sporting Park (9 pm ET/8 pm CT; MLSsoccer.com | KSMO; FS-SW)
REFEREE: Allen Chapman.
SAR (bench): Corey Rockwell; JAR (opposite): Corey Parker;
4th: Baldomero Toledo
INJURY REPORT: SPORTING KANSAS CITY -- OUT: FW Teal Bunbury (L knee ACL tear); DF Cyprian Hedrick (L fibula fracture); MF Paulo Nagamura (L ankle sprain); PROBABLE: MF Julio Cesar (R quad strain); MF Roger Espinoza (R ankle sprain) ... HOUSTON DYNAMO -- NONE REPORTED
KC 3 wins, 17 GF ... HOU 6 wins, 21 GF ... Ties 6
2012 HEAD-TO-HEAD: HOU 1 win, 3 GF ... KC 0 wins, 2 GF ... 2 ties
AT LIVESTRONG SPORTING PARK:
7/4: KC 0, HOU 0
9/14: KC 1, HOU 1 (Sapong 93+ -- Davis 58)
MLS CUP PLAYOFFS: HOU 3 wins, 6 GF ... KC 0 wins, 0 GF ... 0 ties