HOUSTON – Here we go again.
That’s probably what the Houston Dynamo and Sporting KC must be thinking as they head into Thursday's Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs matchup – the seventh postseason meeting between the clubs all-time and fourth meeting this season across all competitions.
These teams aren’t strangers to one another in high-stakes settings. In their past six postseason series, the winning team has gone on to reach MLS Cup. And while most MLS rivalries are based on geography, the Dynamo-SKC feud was born and raised on the field.
It started with the 2007 Western Conference Championship — back when Sporting KC were still known as the Kansas City Wizards — and will continue with Thursday’s Knockout Round contest at BBVA Compass Stadium (9:30 ET; UniMas in the US | TSN4, TVAS in Canada | MLS LIVE Free Stream).
So, can this rivalry be considered a ‘Clásico?’
“Yes, I think so,” said first-year Dynamo forward Alberth Elis. “These are great games to play in and even more so since it’s in the playoffs.”
Just how does the Dynamo-Sporting KC rivalry compared to other MLS rivalries? Dynamo defender and former SKC player Jalil Anibaba called it the grittiest rivalry in the league.
“It has a history of having a lot of hard-fought matches,” Anibaba said. “But to be honest, Houston has come on the better end of a lot of those matches.”
Current Dynamo assistant coach Davy Arnaud knows all too well how Houston has been on the better end of the rivalry. Arnaud played nine seasons as a midfielder with Sporting KC and was part of two of the six previous postseason match-ups between the clubs.
“For me this is one of the biggest rivalries in the league. I know people want to talk about other rivalries and other ones I feel they’re a little bit manufactured at times. Manufactured may be the wrong word but they’re newer,” Arnaud said.
“This rivalry has developed over a lot of years now...there's been a lot of big matches and big moments between these two teams.”
Thursday’s matchup is the first time the clubs will meet in the playoffs since SKC defeated Houston in the 2013 Western Conference Championship. Both teams have evolved since then, with Houston a drastically different squad than the one that fell just short of making MLS Cup four years ago.
“We have a lot of new players that maybe aren’t as familiar with the rivalry, but we also have some guys who have been a part of it, like Boniek [Garcia] and Ricardo [Clark] and they maybe have more guys who have been around this rivalry a little bit,” Arnaud said. “But I think our guys understand what this game means.”
Forward Erick “Cubo” Torres, who’s making his first MLS playoff appearance, agreed with Arnaud.
“Since I arrived [in Houston] I knew that Kansas City, much like Dallas, was a longtime rival of the Dynamo and I know both teams have eliminated each other from the playoffs at times,” he said. “So these type of games are special.”
As fate would have it, Arnaud now coaches some of the players that he played against in previous incarnations of Houston’s rivalry matches with Sporting KC.
“Sometimes we’ll talk about some of the old games with Ricardo and DaMarcus [Beasley], we’ll talk a little bit,” Arnaud said. “But the most important thing is right now. That’s what we’re focused on and we’re looking forward to it.”