The other newcomer to the Western Conference, Sporting Kansas City is, in many ways, mirroring the Dynamo this season. Both teams have had strong defense and questions in front of the opposing goal, but SKC enters this match after suffering several backline injuries and still grasping for answers in the attack. Houston, on the other hand, remains healthy (for now) and seems to have possibly begun clicking among their forwards. Saturday night serves as good a chance as any to preserve three points at home.
This week sees Raul Rodriguez nearer to action. The defender has struggled with all sorts of injury this season (the most recent being 25 stitches to cinch up a head wound) but is no longer listed on the injury report. Boniek Garcia returned to training following a knee twist but may not be quite match fit to go on Saturday.
Kansas City enters this match searching for answers. With defenders Chance Meyers (achilles) and Ike Opara (ACL) both out and Seth Sinovic recovering from a groin injury, head coach Peter Vermes is looking at making possible acquisitions in the defense to cope with the losses. Graham Zusi (hamstring) did return last weekend against LA but has not seen his usual production so far this season -- not unlike Houston's Brad Davis.
Sporting Kansas City are tied with four other teams (including Houston) for the 5-spot in the West. A big part of that is Ike Opara, who tore his ACL just a couple weeks ago. Opara's two goals made him an attack leader and his defense was immense. Up until his injury, Opara was on the backline for three shutouts, the lowest conceded shot average of any team, and he led all MLS players with 30 interceptions and 33 aerials challenges won. Opara's absence, coupled with the injury woes of SKC's back four, makes Saturday's match a huge opportunity to continue the Dynamo attack that clicked so well against a tired Montreal two weeks ago.
If Houston is a team starting to figure it out, then Kansas City is certainly stuttering. Their attack stats are not far off from the Dynamo's and the team has struggled to find a reliable scorer despite boasting Graham Zusi (7 Shots), Dom Dwyer (1G, 1A, 21SHT), and the return of Roger Espinoza (1G, 1A). Where SKC can threaten (and what Houston must be careful to not allow) is an attacking set piece. While Opara served as a major key to their set piece offense, Kansas City still has several players that can stand over a ball and deliver a great direct kick or assist. Tyler Deric and the typical Dynamo backline should give fans a bit of confidence in dealing with Sporting, but a small error in marking could prove the decider in this game.
The Dynamo back line (and Tyler Deric) have become a point of reliability this season, earning a first place tie with RBNY in goals conceded. It's no secret that the attack is lacking and Owen Coyle has no shortage of various lineups to tinker with and explore what works. We know Giles Barnes and Ricardo Clark have been driving the offense, but the usual suspects of a neutered attack are glaring. Will Bruin and Alex Lopez are often a focus of fan's ire but the pair have shown bright spots in recent weeks, most notably against DC United. Rob Lovejoy has become something of a super-sub role with a goal and assist to his name in just 150 minutes.
Signs are pointing to the Dynamo attack corps beginning to figure things out. The 3-0 shelling of CCL Finalist Montreal Impact (in the face of woeful home possession) and the draw against an Eastern frontrunner have shown the Dynamo are finally taking shots in the face of goal. They may not be very accurate but, compared to earlier this season, one could say that Houston at least has a strategy now - spray and pray. This Kansas City team is vulnerable in the back and if Houston doesn't capitalize to the tune of a multi-goal game, it would be a disappointment to squander the built-up energy in the attack.
The Houston Dynamo host Sporting Kansas City at 7:30PM CDT in BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday, April 25th. The game will be broadcast on ROOT Sports and can be heard on 1560AM/850AM. TIckets are still available on HoustonDynamo.com.