The Houston Dynamo played some very solid defense against the Philadelphia Union in order to advance to the MLS Eastern Conference Final. However, they will face a far more dangerous team on Sunday in Sporting Kansas City. Livestrong Park will be the venue for game and it’s a place with Sporting KC has had tremendous success in 2011.
Defense has been the Dynamo’s strength. They benefit from a terrific central pair of Geoff Cameron and Bobby Boswell. Cameron had been used in midfield for much of his career, but dropped into the back four full time this year and looks like a natural. Boswell broke into the league with DC United and had a great rookie year, but after slumping was shipped out to Houston. This year, he has recovered his best form. Goalkeeper Tally Hall’s name has been floated as a potential national team call-up for the annual January camp and perhaps even beyond.
Set pieces provide the Dynamo’s greatest threat going forward. Brad Davis serves a free kick like a left-footed David Beckham. In fact, he finished one assist better than the Englishman to claim the top spot in the league in that category. The Union found that using zonal marking against his free kicks and corners failed. Sporting will have to be more attentive to the movement of individual players.
If the Dynamo’s defensive structure can neutralize Sporting’s dynamic attack, the game will be decided on set pieces. Sporting will not want to concede too many free kicks in dangerous positions. Houston has a lot of big players to throw forward with Cameron and Boswell joining Brian Ching and Andre Hainault. They are physically strong and solid in the air, both attacking and defending.
Even without Mexican international Omar Bravo, Sporting KC had little trouble dispatching the injury depleted Colorado Rapids. With a three-pronged attack featuring Teal Bunbury, CJ Sapong, and Kei Kamara, they will be tough to contain on their home field. With plenty of midfield support from Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza, and Julio Cesar, the Dynamo will not find it easy to carry the game.
For the home team, the speed of play will be key. Sporting should try to keep up a fast tempo against the Dynamo. They have speed among the three forwards and from overlapping runs by Chance Myers or Espinoza. Livestrong Park has a big playing surface, bigger than Robertson Stadium where the Dynamo have just ended their residency. That should allow the home side to stretch the field and wear down the Dynamo.
The two teams drew 1-1 in Houston on July 16. The Dynamo had two players sent off in that game and only yielded an equalizer in the 90th minute. The return match in Kansas City was far more lopsided as Sporting ran out easy winners. Once again the Dynamo finished without a full complement of players as Honduran international Carlo Costly received his marching orders after 64 minutes. Sporting tacked on two goals to increase their 1-0 lead to 3-0 and coasted home.
Discipline will have to remain high for both teams. So far, the MLS playoffs have seen a number of dangerous challenges and a significant amount of chippy play that has detracted from the spectacle. The embarrassing scenes at the end of the first leg of the LA Galaxy v. New York Red Bulls series should not be repeated.
This is the point of the season where home field advantage should make a difference. Sporting has a superb home record and will have the backing of a loud fan base. It should prove to be just a bit much for the Dynamo to overcome.