Take your pick from either of the last two Houston & Kansas City matchups and the story begins the same way - it all starts so well.
November 2013, the last time Houston traveled to Sporting Park, Boniek Garcia netted in the third minute of the Eastern Conference Finals and the Dynamo, after an unexpected toppling over New York, seemed poised for another blazing playoff run into the Cup Final. Dom Dwyer, however, was quick to snuff that run out. Playing into Houston's defensive miscues, his 2-1 winner sent the Dynamo home after another deep playoff run to retool for the new year.
And when the two teams met again in Houston on June 6th, the Dynamo (without key World Cup players) were gifted a man-advantage in the 21' when a red card was shown to Sporting Kansas City. All for naught, it would be proven, as SKC put together a gutsy performance good enough for a 2-0 shutout on the road.
As Houston travels for its second consecutive road game in as many weeks, they do so aiming for a win. A 3-0 loss at the hands of an organized, pressuring Columbus has placed the Dynamo in an even tougher position to climb into the playoff chase in the East. Conversely, Kansas City comes off posting an equal defeat at home to Eastern frontrunners, DC United. It was Sporting's ninth consecutive match without a clean sheet and their largest home loss of the year. Both teams come limping into this match with a chip on their shoulder and, that it falls within MLS' branded Rivalry Week, helps to amp up the intensity.
The Dynamo are hovering their hands over the panic button, sitting 9th place in the East on 25 points. SKC, although posting an embarrassing home loss, still sits comfortably in second with 42 points (Toronto FC, in third, have 33). Since the early June matchup, the two teams have become inverses of each other. Houston have gone 2-4-2 while SKC has posted a convincing 5-2-2 record.
Last weekend proved a difficult one for Kansas City, however. In its first match with a repeated lineup this season, their defensive flaws proved fatal as DC United were able to carve a 3-0 lead in a seven-minute period during the first half. Shell-shocked Sporting were unable to recover and found themselves chasing the rest of the game.
Heading into this Friday's matchup, there is sure to be the inevitable lineup change from head coach Peter Vermes. Sal Zizzo, forward for SKC, exited the match versus DC United with an apparent groin injury and looks questionable against Houston. Sporting goalkeeper Jon Kempin will likely make his fifth start of the season after first-string Eric Kronberg and second-string Andy Gruenebaum have both suffered injuries this year. Although he may be low on the depth chart, the Homegrown keeper has proven himself in goal and shouldn't be viewed as a weak link in the Kansas City defense.
With recent news that forward Jacob Peterson will remain out for an additional couple weeks with injury, Dom Dwyer will be needed to improve his performances. Dwyer has logged an impressive 16 goals on the year, but only mustered a single shot against DC United last Saturday.
Aside from last weekend's misstep, Kansas City have excelled through their defense. While Aurelien Collin loves to bring physicality to matches versus the Dynamo, Seth Sinovic has proven a capable leftback that could disrupt the flow of Kofi Sarkodie and Boniek Garcia throughout the night. Lawrence Olum and Benny Feilhaber have been assertive in the midfield despite Benny experiencing a night of poor distribution against DC United. Ricardo Clark and Luis Garrido will need to wrestle the control of midfield away from this duo in order to see progress moving forward.
Sporting also displayed wasted chances throughout last weekend, which might be forgiving for the Dynamo's suspect defense as of late. In that match, Kansas City also employed several failed offside traps which proved costly by the punishing DC attack. These opportunities may not show as much as they did against United, so Houston will likely have to manufacture its own path to the goal through deep wingback play and Brad Davis.
This will be one of the few remaining matches against an Eastern Conference opponent not directly vying for a position against us. Despite the history between the two teams, it is becoming critical that the Houston we see at BBVA shows up on the road and brings home a result. Without a road point the rest of the season, playoffs may be little more than a midsummer's dream this year.
Houston faces Sporting Kansas City in Sporting Park on Friday, August 29th at 7:00PM. The match can be seen nationally on NBC Sports Network.