HOUSTON – It seems no two teams know each other better than the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City when it comes to the MLS Cup Playoffs.
They have become rivals through the simple fact that they’ve met in the Eastern Conference playoffs the past two years. Houston have received the last laugh both times, bouncing SKC out of the playoffs while moving on to MLS Cup. Sporting, meanwhile, have been forced to relish in their regular season success.
Now the teams will meet for a third year in a row with a MLS Cup berth once again on the line. With that in mind, Houston know their opponents are going to try to take the fight to them when the two-leg series kicks off Saturday at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium (2:30 pm ET; NBC, UNIVISION DEP., RDS2).
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“Kansas City’s a team that’s sick of us,” said center back Bobby Boswell. “We make it tough, it’s not going to be a fun game. You watch the way they play against other teams and they’re a pretty good possession team. Against us, they come and know it’s going to be a dogfight and try and make it into a dogfight. We have no problem with that either.”
Sporting have been criticized in the past for not rising to the occasion against Houston. This year, especially in Houston, that has changed. Sporting ended Houston’s 36-game home unbeaten streak in May.
“I think it was a good statement from our team when we came down here and beat Houston,” SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen said on a conference call with reporters. “That gives us the belief that we can do it again.”
In October, Sporting notched another BBVA Compass result with a scoreless draw. Both times SKC did not shy away from a challenge, notching 41 fouls in two games in Houston. Under head coach Peter Vermes, Sporting is capable of playing beautiful soccer. In Houston, however, the intimate environment and willingness to bring a physical nature to the game is something the Dynamo know a lot about.
“[Kansas City’s the] same group of players but obviously they have a little more experience,” Dynamo captain Brad Davis said on the same conference call. “We match up well against them and have very competitive games. I don’t see anything in that aspect changing.”
With SKC eager to continue to debunk the negative perceptions that come with a matchup with the Dynamo, Houston know they will have to find a way through to get an advantage in the first leg of the home-and-home series, a situation in which they have thrived against their conference rivals in the past.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve had their number because we’ve had many different results in the regular season, just the results in these two Eastern Conference [series] have gone our way,” Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear said on the Friday conference call.
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The question remains, can Houston once again break SKC’s pressure and find a way to repeat history?
“You’ve got to move the ball quickly,” Kinnear said after Friday’s training. “You have to be strong on the ball, but you have to be thinking a step ahead. If you can play and move and break their pressure it does open up the field.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.