Sporting KC have war wounds to show for physical first leg vs. Houston, welcome more in second

HOUSTON – The first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship between Houston and Sporting Kansas City wasn't pretty, and the outcome perhaps was predictable: no goals, few chances and a knockdown physical battle.

Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen was sporting an ice pack on his lower back in the locker room at BBVA Compass Stadium postgame, the result of getting a knee from Dynamo forward Cam Weaver in the 66th minute.

Center back Aurélien Collin, on the other hand, had a bump on the back of his head following a mix-up with Houston's Giles Barnes late in the contest.

Nielsen told reporters he would be fine, but he would take the next two days to rest and not think about the second leg on Nov. 23. Collin, for his part, welcomed the physicality that always seems to come in matchups with Houston.

“I’m OK. I am good,” he told reporters after the 0-0 draw. “They hit me on my nose, back of my head, side of my head. I am used to it. It’s part of the game. I liked it when it’s physical.”

Collin said he was happy with his team for the job they did. The defense in particular did not allow a Houston attack that is capable of scoring quickly, regardless of the limited number of chances they're granted.

“The difference between us winning and them winning is very small,” Collin said. “Tonight, they didn’t have a lot of chances. We were very focused. One of the main objectives was to be solid and disciplined defense to not allow them many opportunities to score.”

Head coach Peter Vermes agreed, adding: “I don’t think either team had many chances, to be honest with you. There were a lot of balls in the box, but there was nothing real clean and clear. It’s not like anybody said, ‘Holy cow, how did we miss that thing?’"

With two weeks to prepare for the second leg after playing five games in the last 17 days, Collin said Sporting KC – which he referred to as the younger team and more physically ready of the two – would be ready.

Vermes said both Collin and Nielsen were good Saturday, and they weren’t alone.

“I can’t really admonish anybody for not giving everything they had,” Vermes said. “I don’t necessarily think that they were dangerous and we weren’t either. It was a game played between the boxes.”

Stay connected: The official MLS app keeps you connected with the latest news, highlights, scores, standings, and analysis all for FREE. Download for iOS (Apple) or Download for Android