KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sporting Kansas City have a pretty good understanding of the kind of threat Houston will pose Saturday at Livestrong Sporting Park (4 pm ET, TeleFutura), but that won’t make it any easier to stop.
If history is any indication, the Dynamo’s attacking lifeblood will come in the penalty area and most likely in the air.
Left-footed maestro Brad Davis & Co. will take every opportunity they get to whip the ball into dangerous areas in front of goal, looking for the heads of Brian Ching, Carlo Costly, Geoff Cameron and the rest of the Dynamo’s towering aerial targets.
“They’re a very direct team,” defender Matt Besler (above) said. “When they get the ball out wide, the first thing they look to do is serve the ball in the box. Other teams might look to play a little bit. Any chance [Houston] get, they’re probably going to look to serve it.”
That leaves Kansas City’s back line – central defenders Besler and Júlio César, in particular – with plenty to worry about when it comes to tracking, marking and challenging Houston’s brawny forwards in the 18-yard box.
Simply put, Sporting will have to keep their heads on a swivel anytime the ball is within striking distance of goal lest they become the latest team to succumb to the Dynamo’s aerial pressure.
Dominic Kinnear’s team has always had the reputation for being a physical, direct side, and their production from dead balls this season backs that up. Houston have scored half of their goals – 17 of 34 – in 2011 from crosses, corner kicks and free kicks. Seven of those have come on headers and only four came from outside the penalty area.
“They finish their runs well,” Sporting manager Peter Vermes said. “They are very aggressive in the box. They’ve got some guys that are not only big but play big as well. It’s always an issue with them. I don’t think that ever changes.”
It also helps that the Dynamo have Davis, who owns Major League Soccer’s most clinical left foot, at their service. The 29-year-old leads the league with 13 assists this season and scored Houston’s only goal in the two team’s previous meeting, beating goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen with a beautifully curled free kick.
Sporting won’t be able to keep Davis off the ball in open play, but the hope is they can limit the number of dead-ball opportunities he has at his disposal.
“I really do believe in the concept of limiting the number of set pieces and where,” Vermes said. “It’s one thing if you give a set piece up at midfield vs. one right at the top of your box. You’ve got to pick and choose the moments and where you do that at.”
That will largely come down to defensive positioning and discipline. Still, it’s unlikely that Kansas City will be able to completely keep Davis and his targets quiet for 90 minutes. At that point, it will simply come down to determination, desire and an awareness that the ball could end up in the box at any given time.
“It has a lot to do with your will and your attitude,” Vermes said. “If we have that and we’re organized, we should be pretty solid.”