Boniek García walks around with a perpetual smile on his face. The Honduran international and Houston Dynamo star always seems to be in a good mood and carries himself with the same easy grace as one of his runs down the sidelines.
On Saturday, it will not be his smile and grace that are drawing attention.
As the Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City meet once more in a decisive playoff game – this time with a trip to MLS Cup 2013 on the line in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship of the MLS Cup Playoffs (7:30 pm ET; NBCSN; UDN; TSN2/RDS2 in Canada) – the smiling Honduran will be a marked man by an opponent that knows how impactful he can be in all areas of the game.
“I think he’s a fantastic player,” SKC head coach Peter Vermes said on a Thursday media conference call. “I think he’s a great addition to our league. He’s definitely a dangerous player and somebody you have to keep your eye on that can turn the game on its head by one of his actions. Houston has a lot of players that we have to take account for during a game. He’s definitely one of the guys that is high on the list.”
García returned to training with the Dynamo on Thursday after being one of two MLS playoff participants – Sporting KC's Soony Saad being the other – who was called for international duty last weekend. The winger logged just 75 minutes in games against Brazil and Ecuador, meaning his already energetic legs will be fresh for Saturday’s clash.
“I think [Honduras head coach Luis Fernando] Suárez did us a favor by saving him a lot of minutes on Tuesday,” head coach Dominic Kinnear said on Thursday’s conference call. “He’s in good shape and says he feels good.”
That's good news for the Dynamo as they will surely face a significant amount of pressure at Sporting Park. García is usually the main target when the Dynamo play out of the back.
A midfielder who can bring the ball down from nearly anywhere in his vicinity, García was responsible for creating the most chances (64) for Houston during the 2013 regular season.
“Having him back and healthy is the most important thing, but having him on the field and being able to play out of pressure is important to us,” Kinnear said. “We have to play out of pressure at times on the road, and that’s a critical thing.”
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With García fit and ready for this winner-take-all game, Sporting know that keeping him in check will be a priority as he could be the X-factor that turns the game into another successful trip to the Midwest for Houston. The Dynamo have defeated SKC in the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
“He’s one of their most talented guys going forward,” Sporting defender Matt Besler said. “They try and find him a lot with the ball, and he provides a lot of room. He’s a guy who we can’t give a lot of space, and hopefully we’ll get up tight to him and not give him a lot of time on the ball.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.