KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The cautious approach employed by Peter Vermes when discussing rivalries has rubbed off on his players.
Sure, Sporting Kansas City would love to be the first team to beat Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, WATCH FREE on MLS Live). Yes, they remember being knocked out of the Eastern Conference playoffs by the Dynamo in each of the past two seasons – each time after Kansas City finished atop the regular-season conference standings.
But if there's an extra-personal edge to Sunday's matchup, Vermes' men are hiding it well.
“Since I came here, it's become more and more of a rivalry against Houston,” goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen told MLSsoccer.com after Friday's training session. “We've played some very intense games. Unfortunately, most times the result came out their way, so of course we would love to go there and beat them – but not just because it's Houston.”
HOU 2, SKC 0: Playoffs 2012, 1st leg
READ: Houston say Sporting KC is out for revenge
With one win and three shutout losses in their last four outings, including Wednesday's late collapse in a 1-0 home defeat to Seattle, Sporting could use a good result against anyone. And it looks as though they'll have to get it without center back Matt Besler, who has missed the last two matches with a slight MCL strain.
“I'm not the kind of guy who thinks about what happens in the past, revenge and all that,” Nielsen said. “We just need to get back and get a result. If that's a point or three points, time will show, but we've got to be on our toes and we've got to play our best soccer to get a result.”
That's the same approach Vermes is taking.
“We try to win every game we play,” he said on Friday. “Every one of them is important. I don't think there's any more importance than any other game that we play.”
As for Besler, Vermes said the defender is day-to-day with the ligament tweak, with Ike Opara listed as the probable starter in game notes issued Saturday.
SKC 1, HOU 0: Playoffs 2012, 2nd leg
Dominic Kinnear's Dynamo are unbeaten in their last 30 league matches at home and in their last 36 across all competitions. That streak includes a 2-0 win over Sporting in their most recent meeting at BBVA, in the first leg of their 2012 playoff series.
“Obviously, they've made it a fortress,” Vermes said. “They've done exceptionally well there. I was just talking to Dom on the phone the other day, and I told him what a great job he's done and his team's done of defending their home turf at the end of the day. It's a great accomplishment.”
Vermes, whose club trained in 55-degree conditions on Friday, said the heat in Houston is one factor in the Dynamo's home dominance.
“It's cold here, and down there it's going to be in the 80s,” he said. “That's going to be a drastic change for us, but we'll just have to deal with it. That's the way it is.”
Sporting have proven that they can impose their will on the Dynamo, though. They did it in the second leg of the 2012 playoffs, controlling pace and possession in a 1-0 win, but just couldn't come up with a second goal to force extra time.
“Every game we have against them, it's a battle,” said left back Seth Sinovic, who scored his first professional goal in that match. “It's very physical. Sometimes it gets chippy. We're going to have to be ready to fight for every ball – every 50/50 ball and even balls that shouldn't go our way.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.