For the 8th time in all competitions over the past 2 years, Sporting KC will take the field against the Houston Dynamo in a competitive match. Five league games, one US Open Cup qualifier, and a playoff game later and KC and Houston meet again in the playoffs. This time in a two legged affair starting at BBVA Compass Stadium tomorrow afternoon on NBC. The series as a whole has been fairly even as a whole with the series split 2-2-3. Arguably though the Dynamo won the biggest game, last year's Eastern Conference 2-0 at Livestrong Sporting Park.
The Dynamo are undefeated this season at their new stadium, going 11-0-6 this season at home. On top of that they've gone 26 games in all competitions without a loss in Houston a stretch. On one hand though, the Dynamo will be playing their 3rd game in an 8 day time span. They did get a bit of a break last Saturday night as they rested some starters for their game against Colorado having been locked into the 5th spot. Still on Wednesday night in Chicago, the Dynamo had to play a very intense game against the Fire to get themselves into this game. With the tighter time frame that could play a factor. The Dynamo create much of their impact on set pieces, but KC has been a stronger team than the Fire has been on set pieces this season.
Meanwhile KC is coming into this game on a 10 day break as they were the 1 MLS team to finish before last weekend due to the odd number of teams in the league. The extended break has allowed Sporting to get Roger Espinoza back from his sprained ankle that caused him to miss the last 2 games of the regular season for KC. Paulo Nagamura sprained his ankle in the final league game of the season and is still not known if he'll be able to play a part in the first leg. There are two ways that KC can go with Nagamura's spot. Sporting could play the same lineup that they did against the Union, except insert Espinoza into Nagamura's spot. That lineup would see Peterson Joseph get the start in midfield in Houston, where earlier this season he'd picked up a red card. The other option is play the same lineup from last Wednesday after Nagamura came off, the only change would be Espinoza coming in for Joseph. That lineup would see Jacob Peterson as the 3rd forward and Graham Zusi dropped into the midfield.
Myers - Collin - Besler - Sinovic
Cesar - Espinoza
Peterson - Sapong - Kamara
Number to Remember - 26 - As I stated above, it's been well over a year since the Houston Dynamo lost a game at home. They've won 11 at home this year. While KC has set a team record for wins on the road this year, Houston was one of the locations that Sporting lost at this season away from home.
Key Match Up - Roger Espinoza vs Brad Davis - Davis is the engine that runs Houston's entire offense, whether on set pieces or in the run of play, Davis controls the play. Espinoza coming off the injury is going to want to make a difference but he's also going to need to keep things simple and avoid silly fouls.
PREDICTION - Dominic Kinnear has had Peter Vermes' number and in the playoffs has proven to be one of the best coaches in league history when it comes to game planning in a knock out competition. The word "revenge" has certainly come up at least once or twice in the course of the past few days. Sporting has the talent to come out of Houston with at least a draw. A one goal loss and things become extremely difficult as Kinnear will develop a game plan for Wednesday designed to completely shut down KC's attack, similar to what Houston did last year. KC has the unbeaten run that they'll look to continue but an early goal against could really kill KC tomorrow.
SKC - 1 (Kamara)
HOU - 1 (Bruin)