Way back in June, after Sporting Kansas City moved up from dead last to a share of last place in the East, I had predicted that Sporting would win the East and get to the MLS Cup. The responses and e-mails I received ranged from "I don't know what I am talking about," to "we won't even have a coach," to...well the majority of them said I was an idiot. Well today at Livestrong Sporting Park, Sporting Kansas City play the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference Finals in the most anticipated soccer game Kansas City has ever seen. The first two meetings saw a 1-1 draw at Houston and a 3-0 Sporting win here in Kansas City.
What to watch for:
SKC- This game will look much of the same for Sporting fans and maybe a little better. Look for them to turn give aways into scoring opportunities by continuing with high pressure in the center of the midfield and with Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic out wide. On offense look for a more direct style, using their speed to get behind the Houston back four quickly and effectively (I don't mean they will dump the ball down field), I think we will see more over the top, through, and long balls to get behind the left and right back early on, that will open up the field to get a lot of touches and move the ball around in more advanced positions later on in the first half.
Hou- In the first game between the two teams, Houston coach Dominic Kinnear used a 4-3-3 to match that of Sporting's 4-3-3. They went up 1-0 after 14 min. He immediately dropped another body into the midfield and saw none of the possession for the duration of that game and/ or the 2nd game when Sporting won 3-0. I think he wanted to go to the 4-3-3 in the second game, but Houston center back Bobby Boswell was out on suspension so he played 4-2-2. I have a hunch that he might go back to a 4-3-3 and try and go head-to-head, but most likely he will ride their hot streak of seven games unbeaten and keep the line-up the same and the formation as well. Houston's two leading scorers are the pair of center backs with 5 a piece. That sounds less strange once you see that Brad Davis has 16 assists. Yes, that means they rely on set pieces. I've tried to go as long as I could before mentioning that phrase, but that is all you are going to hear for the next 16 or so hours. Why? Simple, that's the only way they can score, so you will be beat to death with it tomorrow prior to and during the game.
Who to watch:
SKC- Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza, Julio Cesar. If Houston are to have any chance, they have to have the most of their possession behind these three. Houston will try and play with it and get behind them, and then they will start their attack. The first two games Houston got way too impatient and ended up just aimlessly dumping balls to the corner flag. If they can keep Houston in front of them, meaning they don't get sucked to high and get out of position the rest of the team will be able to keep the balance, if they do fall into it, Sporting can get into trouble. Cesar should be a calming presence and I see them keeping their shape.
SKC Forwards- If they can get behind the back four this could be fun to watch. Sporting could end up with tap in's if they keep their composure and make the right decisions.
Hou- Geoff Cameron. Center back Bobby Boswell might need a leash to keep track of his partner Cameron. Cameron has the tendency to just drift out of position, like WAY out of position. If Sporting can get behind Corey Ashe and Andre Hainault, Cameron won't be able to contain himself and WILL feel the need to help. No offense to Cameron, but it is pretty funny watching him just wander away from the center sometimes. The look Boswell get's on his face is priceless, so look for extra communication between the two of them. If not, this game will look pretty funny.
Houston Goal keeper- Tally Hall. He needs a repeat performance from the first time these two met. In that game he had 249 saves and played the game of his life. If he can't repeat that then this game is over, fast.
By the numbers:
Houston away from home:
Houston while playing on the road this season was at the bottom of every important category. Wins didn't come easy as they only won 2. Goals weren't any easier to find, out of 45 total goals they scored this year 13 of those were away. They score less than a goal a game while allowing more than a goal a game. Those are the numbers that are being kind. Against teams with winning records in the MLS, Houston scored only 4 times on the road and managed 1 win. The two starting forwards for today's game, Brian Ching and Casey Carr, have a combined 6 goals.
SKC at home:
Livestrong Sporting Park has been many things this year, most importantly it has been a true home field advantage. They have 9 wins and only 2 losses (both coming with 4 goals allowed after 90 minutes). They have scored 29 times, nearly 2 goals per game while allowing less than a goal a game. The starting forwards have combined to score 26 goals, 29 if Omar Bravo is starting.
Usually in games like these, when two evenly matched teams play each other, the winner is decided by one play. A mistake by the opponent is typical. However, I don't see these teams being evenly matched and unlike what everyone else will say, a set piece won't be the difference in this game. Houston's 7 game unbeaten streak started after they left Kansas City and will end leaving Kansas City. The only way I can see Houston winning this game is by scoring the first goal and scoring either in minutes 42-45 or scoring after the 75th minute. Sporting has too much speed and will be able to get behind Houston's back four too easily. Sporting again will frustrate the Dynamo midfield resulting in yet another red card and Sporting forwards will have each have a goal in this one, fairly easy ones at that.
Sporting Kansas City- 3
Houston Dynamo- 0
Here's to being an Idiot!