HOUSTON — The Houston Dynamo love them some home cooking, and this season proved that.
The Dynamo were one of four teams this season to lose just once at home. Now, after a three-year playoff drought, the Orange have the luxury to host a knockout playoff game against long-time rivals Sporting KC this Thurs., Oct. 26 (9:30 pm ET, UniMás with ENG via SAP, TSN, TVAS).
As fate would have it, the last time the Dynamo were in the playoffs they were knocked out by Sporting KC in the Conference Finals.
Houston would love nothing more than to return the favor and send Kansas City packing. Adding to the drama of the game, this will be the third time in two weeks these two clubs face each other.
With how closely the two teams know each other, how does one prepare for a game of this magnitude?
“Each game is totally different. We can play a team a hundred times, and each game is going to be different,” said Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera. “That’s why we need to be sharp, and that’s why we are already thinking it’s going to be a tougher game.”
In total, the Dynamo and Kansas City have faced off three times this season, including a Sporting KC victory over Houston in the U.S. Open Cup. Cabrera notes that each game between the clubs has gotten tougher and tougher.
The edge is clearly with Houston, who’s proved to be nearly invincible at home. Dynamo forward Mauro Manotas, who notched his 10th goal of the season in the last regular season game, agrees.
“We’ll be home and we’re strong here,” said Manotas, who was one of three Dynamo players to score 10 goals this season. “They [Sporting KC] need to come with that mentality that we’re [Houston Dynamo] winners at home.”
It wasn’t all smiles for the Dynamo on the last game of the season. In the eighth minute of the first half, Dynamo right back AJ DeLaGarza went down with an injury and had to be subbed off.
DeLaGarza has been crucial for the Dynamo and their revamped defense this season, and his injury couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“We have to wait [to see] what happened with A.J. where he has to go and do the MRI and all those things,” Cabrera said. "We have to wait for the report but we expect hopefully it is not something that is long-term."
If DeLaGarza does have to sit out this week’s Knockout Round game, all signs point to Jalil Anibaba getting the call at right back. The seven-year veteran took over at right back after De La Garza exited the game.
The seven-year veteran says he's ready to step in and contribute.
“I’m comfortable there [right back]. I played there a lot throughout my career,” Anibaba said. “It’s a matter of trying to make sure that the backline doesn’t skip a beat and make sure that I’m keyed in into whatever the team needs me to do.”