I think Yogi Berra said it best: it's déjà vu all over again. For the third straight time (and fourth in eight years), the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City will meet in the MLS Cup playoffs. Needless to say, it's almost become a fixture in and of itself - and it's one of the things that has led to the rivalry that's grown between the two sides.
This time, their meeting will be in the Eastern Conference Finals. Just like in 2011, they'll be playing for a spot in the MLS Cup Finals - as well as a CONCACAF Champions League berth for 2014-2015. That being said, there is one major difference - as you all should remember, the conference finals switched to a two match tie format last year. With the Dynamo as the lower seed, this means that the first meeting will be here in Houston on Saturday afternoon.
These guys know each other very well. They've squared off numerous times in the past few years, and they've always been close, hard-fought matches. Sure, some faces won't be there - Kei Kamara and Adam Moffat, have moved on to different pastures (among others) - but that won't change the drive or intensity of either side. It might not be the match that the two coasts want to see, but I'm not sure there's one I'd rather see, even if that's only because it makes everyone else furious.
Momentum will play a role in this one, but it won't be as big as it was in the conference semifinals, as a two week international break interrupts this tie. That being said, both sides will try and ride the emotion of extra time victories Wednesday night in order to try and gain an advantage heading into that long respite. For the Dynamo, this will be their seventh match in 21 days - a rest will be welcome, but there's still work to be done before then.
Saturday afternoon, the Dynamo will have to do that work without left back Corey Ashe. Ashe picked up his second yellow card of the playoffs in extra time Wednesday, meaning that he'll serve an accumulation suspension in the first leg of this tie. As of yet, there's no clue as to who the Dynamo will put at left back, but whoever it will be will have a tall task in defending SKC playmaker Graham Zusi - not something you'd really consider jumping up to do. Candidates for that honor include Warren Creavalle and Mike Chabala, but it's all up to Dominic Kinnear.
Another question fans have is about the status of Omar Cummings, who over the course of two matches has completely changed the way many Dynamo fans feel about him. With a goal in added time Sunday and another in extra time Wednesday, Cummings has finally done what fans have wanted him to do all year: score goals. His speed and poaching ability are an asset off the bench, but perhaps he gets a chance to start Saturday and inject those qualities into the match from the start.
There are several other questions, of course, and they'll all be answered in due time, at 1:30 CST on Saturday afternoon. This will be the Dynamo's final home match of the season, so let's get BBVA Compass Stadium filled up and rocking. If this match is anything like its predecessors in the series, it's not one that you'll want to miss. Because by the end of ninety minutes, we'll be one step closer to our ultimate goal. The questions will have been answered, and the path will have been laid out. All we can do now is hope that it'll be the right answers and the correct path.